Sustainable Superabundance: The Technoprogressive Plan
Note: The following text is draft and is presently undergoing regular revision. The most recent changes were made at 12:02 on 18th August.
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To keep the document simple, inline references are omitted. Readers can find multiple references to relevant source material via the H+Pedia online wiki and via the author’s previous book “Transcending Politics”.
Picture source: Genty on Pixabay.
Beyond the fear and chaos of contemporary life, there is good news to share.
A new era is at hand: the era of sustainable superabundance. In this era, the positive potential of humanity can develop in truly profound ways.
The key to this new era is to take wise advantage of the remarkable capabilities of twenty-first century science and technology: robotics, biotech, neurotech, greentech, collabtech, artificial intelligence, and much more.
These technologies can provide all of us with the means to live better than well – to be healthier and fitter than ever before; nourished emotionally and spiritually as well as physically; and living at peace with ourselves, the environment, and our neighbours both near and far.
This is not a vision of today’s society writ large – a mere abundance of today’s goods, services, activities, and rewards. It’s a vision of a superabundance, with new qualities rather than just new quantities.
This is not a vision of returning to some imagined prior historical period – to some misremembered bygone golden age. It’s a vision of advancing to a new society, in which all can freely participate, and in which all can enjoy unprecedented benefits.
This is not a vision of a fixed, rigid utopia. It’s a vision of the collaborative creation of a sustainable, open-ended, evolving social framework. In this new framework, every one of us will be empowered to make and follow our own choices without fear or favour.
The sky will no longer be the limit. The cosmos beckons, with its vast resources and endless possibilities. Our destiny lies in the ongoing exploration and development of both outer and inner space, as we keep reaching forwards together to higher levels of consciousness and more profound experiences.
But first, we face some hard, critical choices – choices that will determine our future. We need to select and uphold the set of priorities that will facilitate the timely emergence of sustainable superabundance.
If we choose well, constraints which have long overshadowed human existence can soon be lifted. Instead of physical decay and growing age-related infirmity, an abundance of health and longevity awaits us. Instead of collective dimwittedness and blinkered failures of reasoning, an abundance of intelligence and wisdom is within our reach. Instead of morbid depression and emotional alienation – instead of envy and egotism – we can achieve an abundance of mental and spiritual wellbeing. Instead of a society laden with deception, abuses of power, and divisive factionalism, we can embrace an abundance of democracy – a flourishing of transparency, access, mutual support, collective insight, and opportunity for all, with no one left behind.
If we choose well, the result will be liberty on unparalleled scale. The result will be people everywhere living up to their own best expectations and possibilities, and then more. The result will be a transformed, improved humanity, taking the next steps in evolution. The result will be to advance beyond mere humanity to transhumanity.
Time for action
It is time for technoprogressives around the world – vanguards of this momentous transformation – to inspire people everywhere to organise in anticipation of the era of sustainable superabundance.
It is time for technoprogressives to affirm how the future can be hugely better than the present. Human nature is but a starting point for the journey to extraordinary posthuman capability. Whereas the evolution of life has been blind for billions of years, it is now passing into our conscious, thoughtful control. Whereas the evolution of society has been dominated for centuries by economic matters and struggles over scarce resources, centre stage can soon feature the blossoming of abundance.
At present, we can only glimpse the outlines of the coming era of sustainable superabundance. It is the fundamental responsibility of technoprogressives to discern these outlines more clearly, and to help humanity as a whole envision and navigate the pathways ahead.
Together, let’s map out constructive solutions to the obstructions and distractions that impede human progress. Let’s build alliances that weaken the forces resisting positive change. With the growing momentum of an inspirational technoprogressive movement, let’s overcome the grasp on power held by today’s backward-looking vested interests. And through an emerging shared understanding of the vital benefits technoprogressive policies can bring to everyone, let’s transform fearful opposition step-by-step into willing partners.
Together, let’s apply our skills, our time, and our resources to paint more fully the picture of sustainable superabundance. Let’s organise our researchers, our creatives, our businesses, and our activists in service of this historic cause. Let’s transcend our present-day preoccupations, our unnecessary divisions, our individual agendas, and our inherited human limitations. Let’s grasp the radical transformational power of new technology to profoundly enhance our vision, our wisdom, our social structures, and our effectiveness. In this way, we can accelerate the transition to sustainable superabundance.
2. Superabundance awaits
Twenty first century science and technology, developed and deployed wisely, can enable sustainable superabundance covering seven fundamental areas of life.
This chapter of the Technoprogressive Plan briefly introduces the core ideas for these seven areas. Subsequent chapters provide more details. The Plan’s final chapter proposes a set of projects to convert this vision into practical reality.
An abundance of energy
The sun provides the earth with ample energy for all human needs for the foreseeable medium-term future. We can harvest that energy directly via sunlight, or indirectly via the motion of winds and waves. With care, we can also tap into the energy locked deep within atoms. Our task is to enhance methods to collect and store and transmit this energy, preserving the wellbeing of the environment at the same time as we nurture greater all-round human prosperity.
Present-day green technology points the way forwards. Accelerated innovation will allow humanity to swiftly complete the transition to a sustainable abundance of clean energy.
An abundance of food and water
Throughout history, agriculture has passed through a number of dramatic revolutions, including selective breeding, mechanisation, synthetic fertilisers, and gene editing. Even greater revolutions are at hand, as synthetic biology comes of age, enabling a sustainable abundance of delicious, healthy, nourishing food. Meat grown in labs means we’ll no longer slaughter animals on vast industrial scale.
In parallel, desalination plants can provide an abundance of fresh water.
An abundance of material goods
Building on the techniques of 3D and 4D printing, molecular scale manufacturing can drastically reduce the costs whilst increasing the quality of numerous material goods, including clothing and shelter. Innovation can identify alternatives for any rare elements that are approaching scarcity. Asteroids can be mined as an important transitional source of raw materials.
In the same way as bytes have become free of cost, we can anticipate atoms becoming free too. The material economy will follow the digital economy into sustainable abundance.
An abundance of health and longevity
The shortcomings of human biology, which cause us to suffer illness, decay, and death, are on the point of being comprehensively tamed by progress in regenerative medicine – nanosurgery, 3D bioprinting, genomic engineering, and stem cell therapies. Our task is to accelerate this relegation of aging and disease to history.
Much preferable to present-day expensive rear-guard medical treatments, prompt preventive interventions can unleash an abundance of full-health longevity.
An abundance of all-round intelligence
Science is giving us the ability to revitalise and rejuvenate, not only the body, but also the mind. Just as industrial tools have augmented our muscles, computers are augmenting our intelligence. Our growing understanding of the brain means we can enhance our psychology, gaining greater emotional and spiritual intelligence.
Traditional methods of mind enhancement such as education, meditation, yoga, music, art, and exotic substances, can have their power significantly magnified and directed by innovative technologies such as virtual reality, brain-computer interfaces, and AI assistants. An abundance of all-round intelligence beckons.
An abundance of creativity and exploration
In times past, human existence has been closely tied with our paid employment. The era of scarcity provided strong obligations to labour, often in work that was back-breaking or soul-destroying. As technology advances, machines can labour more forcefully, more reliably, and more effectively than human employees. Increasingly, human time and attention can be applied, instead, to an abundance of creativity and exploration – the unfolding and discovery of music, arts, sports, ecosystems, planets, and whole new universes.
Our task is to transition smoothly to a new economy which prioritises, not wage income or gross expenditure, but human flourishing and sentient development.
An abundance of collaboration and democracy
No mind is an island. We gain our strength and wisdom from our social relationships. The obstacles en route to the era of sustainable superabundance can be solved by the wise collaboration of many thinkers and doers, as we sagely consider scenarios, analyse risks, deliberate options, build bridges, reach decisions, deploy resources, progress actions, review outcomes, update processes, and consolidate our advances.
Our task is to ensure no-one is left out of the journey forwards. The benefits can be available to all, in ways that uphold freedom of choice and diversity of lifestyle. Our collaboration can take advantage of the best insights of all minds, and achieve the best results for all minds. In the process, we’ll create and benefit from an abundance of democracy – a superdemocracy.
Overcoming fear of change
There will be many bumps on the road to full collaboration. Indeed, there will be people in all walks of life who oppose the technoprogressive plan to achieve sustainable superabundance.
In times of rapid change, it’s no surprise that many observers will become fearful and obstructive. Afraid of losing their status, they will cling onto outdated habits and structures. Afraid of technology going wrong, they will impose cumbersome restrictions. Afraid that cherished human values may become lost, they will aggressively reassert bygone belief systems that are grounded in incomplete views of human nature and human flourishing. Lacking a vision of positive change from which they can benefit, they will deliberately sow confusion and misinformation.
To overcome confusion and misinformation, let’s generate an abundance of understanding. To displace cumbersome legal frameworks, let’s champion smart, agile regulations. To address the risks of tech-driven dystopia, let’s promote scenarios in which technology uplifts humanity. To lessen the power of vested interests, let’s build wise alliances. To dissolve the fear of change, let’s clarify the roadmap to sustainable superabundance, in which, compared to the present, everyone can attain greater security, greater opportunity, greater health, and greater wellbeing.
In short, to rise above the myriad distractions and obstacles that might frustrate the journey to superabundance, let’s uphold a compelling, engaging picture of the remarkable future which is within our grasp.
Where that picture has gaps, let’s address them, quickly and fully. Where questions arise, let’s move fast to improve our collective understanding in the light of our collective intelligence. Where obstructionists and naysayers attempt to muddy the water, let’s be fair yet firm in taking the conversation to a higher level.
Given the magnitude of the progress which can ensue, no tasks are more important.
3. Achieving superabundance
Technology is not enough. The project to advance into the era of sustainable superabundance needs more than technology.
A credible, powerful vision of a better future helps greatly too – but, likewise, is not enough.
What more is needed? The Technoprogressive Plan envisions vital roles being played by politics, by free market forces, and by targeted investment – not in their present forms, but in significantly improved forms.
Beyond present-day politics
Politics has often proven to be a hindrance to positive progress, and currently poses risks of major social destabilisation. However, there’s no inherent reason for politics to be dysfunctional. We can, and must, do better.
When done well, politics is the mechanism for the democratic oversight of society. When done well, politics holds to account society’s leaders and would-be leaders.
When done well, politics orchestrates collective action to prevent subsets of society exerting undue control over the populace as a whole. These subsets, which can be likened to potential cancers afflicting (if unchecked) the body of society, include corporate monopolies or cartels, banking dynasties, media tycoons and their empires, and “complexes” of overlapping business, military, and political interests. These subsets also include authoritarian politicians who seek to wield power freed from the overall checks and balances of democratic institutions.
When done well, politics also 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. In addition, such politics also ensures that these decisions are carried through, and are revised in a timely manner whenever necessary.
But if politics remains in its present dysfunctional state, all bets are off, regarding whether technology is deployed for the benefit of the few or the benefit of the many. All bets are off, regarding whether important safety considerations for disruptive innovations are recklessly sidelined or prudently reviewed. All bets are off, regarding which sets of interests dominate decision-making, and which priorities receive consequential support. All bets are off, regarding what kind of future will transpire – a future of human diminution and alienation, or a future of human flourishing and exultation.
We can, and must, do better. With the growing application of collective technoprogressive intelligence, politics can become a powerful force for the collective good. With a new vigour, politics can hold obstructionist forces at bay, and thereby shepherd the arrival of sustainable superabundance.
Beyond present-day democracy
Throughout human history, public institutions have operated on far too many occasions for the benefit of just a narrow subset of society. But in the technoprogressive vision, these institutions can and should be operated for the collective good of society as a whole.
The difficulty, of course, is in determining which actions will truly advance the collective good of society. To which reputed experts, or groups of experts, should we listen? Or should we give equal credence to every different opinion?
As a method to make decisions, democratic voting is far from perfect. Simple votes of the electorate suffer from a number of important drawbacks: electors are often ill-informed, have little incentive to research issues dispassionately, and can be badly misled by misinformation. In some cases, electors are bribed, directly or indirectly, to vote in particular ways. Once in power, political parties can close down further discussion by portraying their electoral mandates as an inviolable “voice of the people”, regardless if new information emerges that throws doubt on the wisdom of that choice.
We can, and must, do better. Welcome to the technoprogressive concept of “superdemocracy”.
Superdemocracy involves, not just a simple vote, but an informed deliberation among electors before any top-level decision is taken. In such a deliberation, the most important insights should have a fair chance to rise to wider attention, rather than being drowned out or distorted (as frequently happens in present-day elections) by the loud voices of vested interests who are opposed to these viewpoints.
In such a deliberation, over time, new ideas can emerge, that integrate insights from positions that were previously opposed to each other. The result is no mere “average” of the initial viewpoints – some lowest common denominator – but a higher synthesis.
Superdemocracy upholds the concept of delegated voting, via systems such as “liquid democracy”, which are tech-enabled extensions and improvements to our present straitjacket system of all-in representative democracy. Liquid democracy enables citizens to delegate their votes in specified areas of debate to people whom they trust in these areas; delegations can be revoked or reassigned at any time, in case someone changes their mind. Accordingly, liquid democracy moves away from the unhelpful fiction that politicians are supposed to have been elected to carry out every nook and cranny of their election manifesto. It enables a set of approvals and affirmations that is much more fine-grained – an ongoing dynamic conversation with nuance and creativity.
Another key concept of superdemocratic decision-making is that, as far as possible, the set of considerations pertinent to the decision should be made public, in a way accessible to the general population. This openness allows fuller scrutiny of the arguments taking place – and encourages the introduction to the debate of a wider number of perspectives.
Finally, the scrutiny of these arguments can benefit, not just from contributions from multiple human perspectives, but from reviews carried out by increasingly capable systems of artificial intelligence.
In short, rather than despairing at examples of apparently irrational behaviours by individual voters (and seeking to diminish the influence of these voters over public decisions), we can look forward to improvements in the reasoning capabilities of all voters – at both individual and group levels. Better politics will arise in parallel with better voters.
In turn, with voters more informed and more engaged, our politicians will be obliged to become more informed and more responsive – responsive, not to manipulation by ulterior vested interests, but to the increasingly lucid voice of the citizenry.
Beyond right and left
Here’s one important example of politics becoming less confrontational and more creative.
The journey to better politics involves respecting and integrating important insights from both the traditional right wing of politics and the traditional left wing of politics.
Traditional right wingers are correct to point to the positive accomplishments of free markets, to mistrust the potential over-reach of politicians and career civil servants, to wish to uphold as much individual freedom as possible, to prefer to minimise undue state intervention, and to admire the marvels that can be achieved by competitive-minded self-made individuals.
Traditional left wingers are correct to point to the positive accomplishments of the welfare system safety net, to mistrust the actions of profit-seeking corporations and financial speculators, to wish to uphold as much social solidarity as possible, to prefer to increase equality of opportunity, and to admire the marvels that can be achieved by collaboration-minded progressive coalitions.
Rather than a hostile battle between such positions, let’s ensure that a spirit of constructive exploration prevails. The goal is not the triumph of “our side”. It is the attainment of sustainable superabundance for all.
Beyond the free market
A competitive free market in goods and services often encourages significant improvements in the utility, attractiveness, performance, and affordability of these goods and services, in ways that benefit purchasers of these goods and services.
However, there are circumstances in which markets cease to be open to new competitors, and in effect become cartels or monopolies. In these cases, when barriers to new entrants are too high, free markets can no longer be relied upon to produce the best improvements in goods and services.
Free markets can also be distorted by the imposition of rules or standards that unfairly favour incumbent providers; in such cases, the regulators are said to have been “captured” by vested interests.
What’s more, markets often neglect to properly consider so-called “externalities”, such as impacts (either positive or negative) of products on the environment, public knowledge, public infrastructure, and public health.
For all these reasons, goods and services that deliver the highest financial returns to investors aren’t necessarily those which would maximise increases in human flourishing. One example is that pharmaceutical companies often turn away from developing drugs for the “neglected” diseases that afflict only people in low-income regions of the world. Another example is that it can be more profitable to repeatedly sell people drugs that keep them in a state of semi-invalidity, than to develop a comprehensive one-off cure for their condition.
Accordingly, let’s avoid raising the free market onto any pedestal in which it would be beyond criticism. Democratic supervision of the free market should seek to avoid any large negative effects of free markets, without undermining the positive capabilities of these markets.
In short, the marketplace is a kind of technology, which conforms to the general pattern of technologies, having both positive and negative potential. The task of gaining the positive benefits without a surfeit of negative results is far from simple, and requires regular assessment and review, freed from ideological prejudice.
Beyond private financing
On occasion, the goals of profit-seeking corporations align with the goals of accelerating human flourishing. But on other occasions, the goals diverge. Private financiers are, understandably, reluctant to undertake long-term, patient investment of risky projects which may provide them with little specific opportunities for direct commercial payback. The result is the “tragedy of the commons”: resources from which everyone would benefit, fail to receive the care, replenishment, or new financing they deserve.
For this reason, it has generally been public bodies that have led the way in investing in basic science and underlying technology. Initiatives such as the Manhattan project, the Apollo moonshot, the foundations for the Internet, the original network of GPS satellites, and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, would not have happened without strong public coordination, championed by visionary politicians.
It’s the same with many of the projects needed to accelerate the technologies for sustainable superabundance. We cannot rely on Venture Capitalists to provide sufficient capital in such cases. A more powerful coordination is needed.
Deciding and overseeing the priorities for the deployment of public investment is one of the most pressing tasks that lie ahead – one that will require great collective intelligence. As we can point to more successes from far-sighted public investment, the technoprogressive momentum will build.
This next chapter of the Technoprogressive Plan sets out the principles whereby that task can be steered and accelerated.
4. Determining priorities
It’s time to explore more deeply the ideas underpinning the Technoprogressive Plan.
This chapter starts with the fundamentals, and then reviews some high-level illustrations and implications. The following seven chapters apply and extend these ideas in each of seven areas of human life where sustainable superabundance can bring profound transformation.
Six core principles
First things first. Society needs new top-level goals. Society should no longer prioritise above all else economics metrics such as the Gross Domestic Product or the Employment Rate.
We humans cannot live by bread alone. Nor do we live to work. These factors – the bread we eat, and the work we undertake, are means to an end, but are not ends in themselves.
Instead, here are a number of principles that merit being at the core of decision systems. First, the prioritisation of human flourishing: prefer actions that lead to the increase of human flourishing. Second, the generalisation of that principle beyond present-day humans: prefer actions that lead to the increase of flourishing of human-like minds. Third, the generalisation to longer timescales, thereby highlighting sustainability: avoid actions that reduce the possibilities for future flourishing.
These three principles, as stated, leave many questions unanswered. They define a broad technoprogressive envelope that can accommodate a multiplicity of different viewpoints. That diversity is, itself, something to cherish. Hence a fourth core principle: nurture and tolerate diverse opinions within the technoprogressive framework.
Here’s a fifth core principle: where different viewpoints within the technoprogressive envelope clash in terms of action to be taken, it is up to the human community as a whole to deliberate and reach agreement. This is where the practice of superdemocracy comes to the fore.
Finally, as a sixth core principle: in deliberations between conflicting technoprogressive insights, no book, thinker, or tradition should be given any absolute priority. Society needs to remain open to current favoured ideas and methods being superseded. Of course, respect can be shown to books, thinkers, or traditions with good track records as sources of insight. But that respect should be tempered with caution. Runs of success can come to an end – especially in new circumstances or new contexts.
In summary, the suggested core principles are: human flourishing, human-like flourishing, sustainability, diversity, superdemocracy, and openness.
To illustrate the sixth core principle just mentioned, consider the notion of technocracy – respect for decisions by domain experts.
Other things being equal, it’s sensible to pay attention to viewpoints from reputed domain experts. For example, in a sailing boat blown into unfamiliar turbulent waters by a storm, the recommendations of seasoned navigators deserve more attention than the opinions of a first-time sailor. Expert doctors are more trustworthy on matters of an individual patient’s health than lifestyle advice found in mass distribution horoscope columns.
However, all viewpoints should be subject to query and analysis. Experts are often wrong.
Moreover, the fact the someone is an expert in one domain does not entail any special priority applies to their viewpoints in other domains. An expert sailing navigator gains no authority in a different field, such as medical treatments, just by virtue of their sailing expertise.
As it happens, decisions frequently involve the intersection of several different domains. A decision that appears sound from one perspective may be recognised as inadequate when other perspectives are introduced. Listening only to experts from the first perspective risks reaching a bad decision.
Even when someone is an undoubted technical expert in a given domain, it’s worth investing time and effort in explaining to the general public the reasoning behind their recommendations. Rather than being forced onto uncomprehending recipients, key decisions should be collaboratively understood.
Accordingly, the ideal of technocracy needs to be subordinated to the ideal of superdemocracy – the involvement of the entire community in the process to reach decisions.
As another important example of the sixth core principle proposed above, consider science.
Science should be heartily applauded – not only for its many tangible accomplishments, but also for the merits of the methods it follows.
Indeed, the multiple beneficial technologies that will enable sustainable superabundance have arisen from wide adoption of the principles of the scientific community. That is, theories have been subjected to experimental analysis, findings have been published openly, agreement has been deferred pending replication and peer review, and advocates of positions have explored in advance which results would count as refutations (falsifications) and hence pose a real challenge to their favoured hypotheses. These are operating principles well worth upholding.
However, let’s acknowledge there are questions which science, by itself, cannot answer. Although science can answer the question, what’s a good way to accomplish goal X, it may not be able to say whether goal X is itself desirable.
Let’s also recognise that scientific knowledge is provisional and incomplete. Advice on non-fat diets is one example where scientific orthodoxy has significantly changed. To be scientific is to acknowledge that scientific theories can change.
Again, methods that make sense in some fields of science – such as double blind trials, in which experimenters aren’t aware which members of a sample are receiving a given treatment, as opposed to a placebo – aren’t applicable in all other fields of science.
In short, whilst science is one of the key tools used by humanity to advance towards sustainable superabundance, science in itself is not the end goal. Nor is the scientific method the only tool in our toolkit.
Accordingly, while championing the scientific method, we should resist the siren pull of scientism (the exaggeration of the capabilities of particular scientific methods).
Whereas science can tell us what’s a good way to accomplish goal X, we need to look beyond science to decide which goal X is worthy of pursuit.
It is transhumanism that provides the answer, with its vision of the profound ongoing elevation of all-round human health, human wisdom, human wellbeing, and human freedom.
Transhumanism comprises a set of philosophies of life that (to refer to a 1990 definition by philosopher Max More) “seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values”.
The superabundance envisioned in the Technoprogressive Plan cannot be achieved without improving human nature. Superabundance will not feature present-day humans in a new environment. It features humans enhanced in fundamental ways, freed from core defects that have hitherto limited our accomplishments. It features humans on a transhumanist journey towards transcendent posthuman capabilities.
The word “transhumanism” sometimes provokes negative reactions. However, it is likely that the word will become increasingly mainstream. Individual technoprogressives may or may not choose to publicly describe themselves as transhumanists.
Transhumanism can be seen as the fulfilment of religion in the sense of providing an overriding vision, credible in the modern day, that will inspire greater social harmony and positive community endeavour.
However, transhumanism is distinguished from traditional religion by having all its viewpoints open to questioning and updating. There are no inviolable canons of belief or “holy books” in transhumanism.
Throughout history, religion has operated in ways that are both positive and negative.
Religion has often oppressed people, conducted witch hunts and inquisitions, limited personal choices, forbade critical thinking, imposed outdated conceptual frameworks, and caused widespread psychological suffering.
Religions deserve to be opposed if they agitate against the best insights of scientific enquiry, such as evolution through natural selection, or the benefits of vaccinations in providing immunity to many diseases.
Religions should also be opposed if they seek to impose rules on adherents that are contrary to the overall democratic decision of the wider society – rules such as female genital mutilation, forbidding divorce, forbidding the education of girls, or the death penalty for homosexuality or for being a non-believer (“apostasy”).
Society should resist any attempts by religious groups to penalise “blasphemies” such as criticism of central members of a religious tradition. There is no right not to be offended.
At the same time, religion has often provided people with an important sense of purpose and community. Religion has often encouraged people to behave in morally positive ways.
Technoprogressives can find many points of mutual support with religious adherents who avoid the adverse tendencies mentioned above. For example, technoprogressives share with many religious adherents the goal to uphold human dignity and human flourishing, and to act responsibility (as a “steward”) towards the environment.
Religious adherents who are motivated to transcend the limitations of human nature – such as aging and mortality, as well as the propensity to behave badly (“sin”) – can find inspiration in the transhumanist mission to apply science and technology to abolish aging and to enhance human nature. These adherents can therefore see transhumanism as at least part of the culmination of their own religious aspirations.
History has featured many phases, with significant jumps in human capabilities between phases. Major transitions have been given names such as the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, and the industrial revolution. We are presently experiencing an information revolution.
Each time human capability grows, our potential increases to change the earth, in both positive and negative ways. Earlier human migrations resulted in large scale extinctions of other animal species. Human activities are now impacting the atmosphere as never before. Careless use of weapons of mass destruction could result in the end of human civilisation – perhaps even the end of all human life.
The accelerating pace of the information revolution has led to the suggestion of a forthcoming “Singularity” in which change happens more quickly than ever before. Rather than waves of new technologies taking decades or even centuries to reach mass adoption, forthcoming disruptions might drastically alter society’s processes in years, months, or even weeks, days, or hours. This pace, encouraged by fierce competitive pressures, and enabled by self-updating automated processes which bypass the operation of slow human review, may well result in changes that no-one has been able to properly anticipate and evaluate in advance.
The notion of Singularity alarms some critics, who feel uncomfortable with the resonance with religious notions such as “the end of days”, the apocalypse, and the messianic establishment of paradise on earth. Rather than being distracted by ideas with religious connotations – or ideas churned over by Hollywood blockbusters – it’s better, say these critics, to concentrate on shorter-term real-world issues.
Technoprogressives respond that it is better, instead, to keep an open mind.
Indeed, if society concentrates just on the risks and opportunities of the present-day, it may miss the larger risks and opportunities that, timewise, are just around the corner. And we may miss the possibility of making sufficient preparations to steer the forthcoming Singularity so that it results in sustainable superabundance rather than a much bleaker outcome.
Moreover, there will be other benefits from humanity developing skills and processes to help us steer a particularly rapid technological transition like the Singularity. These skills will increase the likelihood of us being able to steer other technological transitions of the coming years and decades, that may be less intense than the Singularity, but still far more disruptive than previous changes.
When technoprogressives highlight the possibilities of large changes being “at hand” and “soon”, we cannot forecast any precise timing. But there are credible future scenarios in which these changes take place by the middle of this century. Perhaps sooner. Certainly within the lifetimes of many people presently alive.
Factors that make it plausible that radical changes may take place so quickly are the acceleration of developments of technologies such as AI and regenerative medicine – developments powered in turn by activity worldwide of unprecedented numbers of scientists, engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, educators, and social activists.
This activity is further boosted by positive feedback cycles: tools that improve tools, computers that improve computers, software that improves software, and AI that improves AI. Again, better technology increases the power of educational systems (including YouTube videos), and better educational systems increase the throughput of capable engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, and systems integrators – who, collectively, can develop technological solutions of even greater utility. Again, better technology improves communications networks, allowing for a richer flow of ideas between technologists around the world, which in turn accelerates the creation and deployment of innovative products. The cycle continues.
Yet other factors causing increasingly higher levels of research and development than before are the enormous commercial and military advantages that can be gained by the groups that are the first to achieve key breakthroughs.
For as long as positive feedback systems remain in place, the result is exponential growth. In reality, most progress curves take a ‘S’ shape rather than an unending exponential curve: an initial phase with slow growth transitions into a phase with faster growth, but then is followed by another phase of slower progress, as the potential of a particular technological architecture is exhausted. However, if the underlying market conditions continue to favour improvements – for example, if there continue to be major commercial gains from hardware and software becoming more powerful – then a number of different ‘S’ curves can arise, one after another, each being based on a new architecture or paradigm. Thus in the world of computing hardware, the architecture of vacuum tubes was superseded in turn by architectures involving single integrated circuits, massively parallel integrated circuits, and cloud computing. The individual ‘S’ curves combine into overall exponential progress covering a longer period of time.
For as long as conditions remain in place that encourage ongoing exponential progress in technology, we need a sense of exponential urgency – an imperative to improve our ability to anticipate scenarios, ahead of our human support systems being overwhelmed by unforeseen consequences of technological change.
Talk of long-standing positive feedback cycles might suggest that the progress of technological development is somehow inevitable or predetermined. But that would be a big mistake.
Instead, the development and deployment of technology is significantly influenced by a wide range of non-technological factors, such as design, legislation, user expectation, public zeitgeist, and random unpredictable events. Accordingly, technoprogressives resist any ideology of technological determinism.
Principles such as “Moore’s Law” may describe general technological trends at a first level of approximation, but can mislead observers who fail to pay sufficient attention. Closer study shows that these principles are subject to variation in matters such as timing for performance to double (e.g. 12 months, 18 months, or 24 months), the meaning of what is delivered (e.g. number of transistors vs. computing power), and the market adoption of the underlying technological capabilities (e.g. CPUs being displaced for some tasks by GPUs and by cloud-based computing).
Instead of sharp predictions of singular dates when future events will take place, what is more credible is a probabilistic prediction covering a range of dates and outcomes. For example, instead of saying that artificial general intelligence will cause a Singularity to occur in the year 2045, a better prediction is to say there’s a 50% chance that such an outcome will happen by that date – and also a 10% chance that it could happen by (say) 2025, and a 90% chance by (say) 2085.
And instead of any predictions that events will somehow “inevitably” result in a victory for transhumanist forces, what is much more credible is a probabilistic prediction covering a range of different impacts on the future of human flourishing.
That’s why technoprogressives repeatedly highlight the importance of human volition and human action. Technoprogressives understand the need to go beyond cheering from the sidelines – the need to set policies that have a real impact on actual social change.
Optimism generally leads to more personal energy than pessimism, so the former is to be preferred to the latter on that score. However, any optimism that is naive about potential drawbacks can lead to greater problems.
Rather than the description “techno-optimism”, technoprogressives would prefer to be known as exemplifying “grounded techno-optimism”.
Whilst technoprogressives anticipate the possibility of many wonderful consequences of technology, they are also aware that there could be terrible consequences as well.
The optimism of the technoprogressives is grounded in sober appreciation of real-world issues and challenges. Rather than ignoring these challenges, technoprogressives will formulate and evaluate potential coping strategies – strategies to manage the risks involved. When a risk is judged too severe, technoprogressives will take actions to avoid the risk altogether.
Precaution and proaction
In determining priorities, both the precautionary principle and the proactionary principle have their place.
The precautionary principle is appropriate when there are credible suggestions of huge negative consequences of some action. We need to beware unintended consequences of well-meaning actions.
The proactionary principle points out, on the other hand, that abstaining from action can have huge negative consequences as well. To adapt traditional language, there are “sins of omission” as well as “sins of commission”. Rather than any blanket abstention from actions which have associated risks, it is often better to develop plans to manage these risks.
For example, it may be argued that nuclear energy has the potential to give rise to radioactive waste that could contaminate huge biological ecosystems. The precautionary principle urges in that case to shut down all nuclear power plants. But the proactionary principle observes that wider adoption of nuclear energy might make all the difference in ramping down the use of carbon-based fuels quickly enough to avoid runaway global warming. In that case, it’s worth putting the precautionary stance temporarily on hold, while methods are reviewed for responding promptly to any leakages of radioactive waste. Far better to calmly assess the various probability estimates involved in these discussions, than to give absolute precedence to either the precautionary or proactionary principle.
In many cases, a better principle than precaution is reversibility. Action that is risky should be undertaken in ways that allow reversal, in the event that matters develop badly.
A commitment to reversibility requires effective monitoring, and avoidance of any inertia that would overwhelm attempts to change course. It also requires the emotional intelligence that is willing to admit and experience failures, and to learn lessons from these failures. It’s an approach that requires a higher calibre of execution than would a reflex application of the precautionary principle.
This may seem like a tall order. Are society’s leaders really capable of operating with a higher calibre? This is by no means clear. In the interest of minimising risk, it may appear better to adopt policies that can be implemented more straightforwardly.
However, any strategy of attempting to always pick low-risk options is itself highly risky. Mediocre leaders will make mediocre choices. Major opportunities will be missed. Political systems that lack capability are more likely to be subverted by powerful vested interests.
Instead, the strategy that has the lowest risk overall is the technoprogressive project to significantly improve the collective capability of society’s leaders. That project will be difficult, but can be achieved by drawing on the best that humanity has to offer.
Diversity and inequality
One source of greater overall capability is when society includes multiple diverse opinions and outlooks, from which new insights can be formulated and integrated.
This is in line with the core technoprogressive principle that people’s differences should be valued. Technoprogressives see no reason to minimise differences. On the contrary, technoprogressives champion greater choice, not only over lifestyle and thinking approach, but also over bodily form (“morphological freedom”).
A matter of real concern, however, is if people are left behind against their will, in matters of opportunity, such as lacking access to resources needed for personal growth and development. This is no longer a diversity to be championed. This is an inequality to be addressed.
Another concern is when the rewards from some joint activity are systematically captured disproportionately by one of the parties in that activity, resulting in growing inequality of opportunity.
There are three reasons to work to reduce inequality of opportunity. First, each individual should reflect that their own circumstances may change, due to factors outside their own control, and they could cease to be a “winner” from current economic transactions and become instead one of the “losers”. Second, even those who are presently well off should fear social chaos arising from the disruptive activity of people who perceive themselves unfairly treated by society. Third, in line with our natural instincts that are in this case commendable, we humans are predisposed to prevent one another from needless suffering.
In short, the technoprogressive commitment to greater human flourishing implies as a consequence a commitment to enable people to overcome circumstances of unequal opportunity. A society that disregards this commitment is a society that will grow weaker and less capable.
Technoprogressives oppose practices such as racism or nationalism that view members of specific ethnic groups as intrinsically inferior. This condemnation is compatible with the recognition that some genetic endowments increase skills or abilities in given areas, such as endurance in long-distance running. These variations do not cause any change in the intrinsic value of the people involved.
But the application of transhumanist technologies in the years and decades ahead will increase the diversity of human attributes – for example, enabling even greater endurance in long-distance running, or better memory and mental processing of information. Might this growing transhumanist diversity rupture the wholeness of humanity? What will happen to democratic ideals such as “one person, one vote” when some people have enhanced various of their attributes tenfold, one hundredfold, or more? Is the potential for such a rupturing a reason to ban technologies of human enhancement?
As before, these changes should cause no change in the intrinsic value of the people involved. However, the increased diversity will give rise to a need for overall governance mechanisms that are more complex than before.
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.
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 co-existence of subgroups with significantly divergent skills and practices. This is an extension of present-day society, which already supports peaceful co-existence of subgroups with different interests and aspirations.
Matters become yet more challenging with the involvement of non-human minds (such as uplifted animals and conscious AIs). This further increases the levels of divergence. As such, the challenges of designing the overall society increase. However, the greater collective intelligence available can provide the capability to manage these challenges.
Technoprogressives look forward to greater flourishing for all human-like minds. To the extent that animal or artificial minds possess core attributes of consciousness, these minds deserve at least some of the same care and support as human minds. This care includes possibilities for growth and development, and the reduction in needless suffering.
For example, in order to eliminate the need for the industrial-scale slaughter of farm animals and fish, the development of lab-grown meat should be accelerated.
It is likely that people will seek to “uplift” their pets, so their pets acquire greater health, longevity, intelligence, and wellbeing. The same principle applies as for humans, namely to avoid unbalanced development that actually leads to a reduction in flourishing.
To the extent that AIs acquire consciousness, they too deserve rights.
Re-engineering natural ecosystems
Nature “red in tooth and claw” involves horrendous amounts of suffering as animals hunt and devour each other.
Re-engineering natural ecosystems to avoid such suffering is one of the great causes to which we technoprogressives can commit ourselves.
Talk of re-engineering natural ecosystems to avoid needless suffering – a project sometimes called “paradise engineering” – brings forth accusations of hubris. Technoprogressives are reckless and naive, critics say. Technoprogressives should “stop playing God”.
Technoprogressives answer this last rebuke with the response “we’re not playing” – our intent is extremely serious.
It’s a commendable part of human nature to seek to do better than our human nature. Throughout history, this impulse has led to great advances in medicine, engineering, and the arts.
However, technoprogressives acknowledge that there are risks of unintended consequences from the application of technology. Examples include drugs such as Thalidomide and Vioxx, and the environmental impacts of the pesticide DDT and, more recently, huge quantities of plastic. Other examples are the way in which widespread access to social media has fanned the spread of fake news and polarisation, and the unforeseen biases latent in some of the algorithms introduced into decision processes.
As noted earlier, there are also risks that the greater diversity of human and posthuman lifestyles will challenge the overall wellbeing of human society.
Technoprogressives take the position that such risks should be identified, reviewed in advance, and managed wisely. No evidence has been presented that any such risks are incapable of solution. To the extent that risks seem particularly worrying – as with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – society can and should take stronger measures in response.
Taking back control
Are some aspects of technological development already beyond control?
For example, many observers are alarmed by the seemingly uncontrollable rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, risking runaway global warming and greater instances of extreme weather. This would be an example of technological development – namely, the technology of extraction of fossil fuels – running contrary to sensible humanitarian control. However, to anticipate the discussion from the next chapter, technoprogressives point to the potential of next generation green energy to hasten the switch to non-carbon energy sources. The technology of CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) can also be accelerated. In this way, the adverse effects of one generation of technology can be undone by the positive effects of a later generation.
To the response that dysfunctional economic and political systems are preventing sufficient social focus on accelerating the requisite technological transitions, technoprogressives foresee transformations in the operation of economics and politics – transformations from systems operating dysfunctionally to a system of superdemocracy.
The effort required for these transformations to take place should not be underestimated. These transformations will be among the most difficult in the history of humanity. But these transformations can be guided by the greatest collective intelligence in the history of humanity, and empowered by the huge positive psychological energy awakened by the vision of sustainable superabundance.
5. An abundance of energy
The foundation for all human activity is energy. Without energy, nothing can be accomplished.
As human activity has grown in scale, we have utilised increasing amounts of energy, in ways that some would describe as bold and ingenious, but others would say is reckless.
We have converted vast forests into firewood. We have unearthed and burned immense quantities of peat, coal, gas, and oil. The resulting light, heat – and cooling – have provided ample illumination and kept citizens at comfortable temperatures. Our factories have been enabled to manufacture countless goods, and our vehicles to crisscross all over the earth. However, side-products of all this activity have been accumulating in unsustainable ways. Greenhouse gas emissions have been amassing in the atmosphere, and now pose a number of potential drastic threats to human flourishing.
To solve these threats, do we need to cut back on human activities? Should we adopt low-energy lifestyles?
The technoprogressive answer is that there is no need to slam on the brakes. However, significant steering is overdue. We need to transition to a different trajectory. Urgently.
Indeed, as this chapter explores, an abundance of clean energy awaits us, ready to power productive, exuberant lifestyles. That’s provided we have the strength of purpose to quickly switch away from our present near-addiction to unclean energy.
Anticipating climate chaos
The future is arriving faster than used to be expected. Likewise, climate change is arriving faster than used to be expected.
In both cases, a dangerous heritage of complacency needs to be overcome – the complacency that says nothing much will actually change any time soon, so it’s OK to continue with “business as usual”.
In both cases, we need to shake off the complacency. We ought instead to heed the advice of Amara’s Law: whilst we should beware overestimating the effect of a technology in the short run, we should also beware underestimating the longer-term impacts that can ensue once the effects of technologies have reached their stride. A period of gradual build-up can tip over into a period of turbulent disruption. A period of apparent calm can morph seemingly overnight into a period of chaos.
In both cases – the case of general future disruption, and the specific case of climate disruption – it is compound effects that prove hardest to anticipate and hardest to manage. Complications arise from self-reinforcing feedback cycles, from crossover effects, and from the destabilisation of previous patterns.
In both cases, the possibility of acceleration in the pace of change increases the urgency for society to exert wiser, firmer control over aspects of collective human behaviour.
In the specific case of climate change, the possible acceleration of extreme weather events increases the urgency for society to navigate away from patterns of living that result in dangerous levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
This is no mere future forecast. Parts of that future have already arrived. Long-lasting heatwaves are breaking records around the world. Rainfall is absent for weeks on end. The resulting wildfires that spread swiftly over tinder dry landscapes prefigure larger catastrophes to come. The people near Athens in Greece who jumped into the Aegean sea to escape rapidly engulfing conflagration were the lucky ones. Others were left stranded with no route to safety, and perished while huddled together in a last embrace. There was no “business as usual” awaiting them.
The periods of unanticipated droughts in some parts of the world are accompanied by periods of unexpectedly heavy downpours of rain elsewhere. Warmer oceans not only expand in volume and threaten coastal erosion, but also stir up larger scale hurricanes. In the wake of greater storms, infrastructure weakens, dams rupture, avalanches of mud cascade downhill, and whole villages are washed away.
That’s not all. Distortions to prevailing atmospheric currents such as the Jet Stream can bring unprecedented cold as well as unprecedented heat. Whilst the average global temperature is on an upward trajectory, regions of countries can experience record lows. In populations unprepared for the havoc of lengthy blizzards, bitter chaos ensues.
People in numerous countries, seeing the effects of severe weather on local crops, and anticipating worse to come, are setting out as climate refugees on arduous journeys towards lands which seem more fertile. These waves of migrants are stacking up waves of conflict and resentment. The US Department of Defense warns of climate change as acting as a set of “threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence”. Trouble will beget further trouble.
Taking climate seriously
Although the direction of travel is clear, the pace at which increased greenhouse gases could trigger deeply damaging climate change remains a matter of some uncertainty.
The basic physics are well understood. It’s been known for more than a century how greenhouse gases can trap more of the sun’s energy and raise average global temperatures. But the dynamic heat circulation mechanisms within the earth’s overall climate systems are fiendishly complicated. Different experts make different forecasts about future impacts, and express different levels of confidence about these predictions.
Nevertheless, as a matter of prudence, scenarios in which drastic changes could take place within just a few decades need to be taken seriously.
These runaway scenarios feature adverse positive feedback cycles, the destabilisation of long-established current patterns in oceans or the atmosphere, and increased chaos from extreme weather events. For example, hotter temperatures reduce the amount of ice cover, which reduces the amount of sunlight reflected back into space, which, in turn, further increases the temperature. And long-buried methane gases which are being exposed by the melting of Siberian tundra, may quickly add to the quantity of airborne greenhouse gases, ratcheting temperature gains even further.
The threat goes beyond the possibility of mere linear changes in temperature. Increased heat could spark a comparatively sudden phase change in the earth’s climate, pushing up the global average temperature by several degrees in less than a decade.
Similar changes have taken place in the past. Around 11,500 years ago, in a transition known as “the end of the Younger Dryas”, temperatures rose by 10°C within a single decade. This abrupt jump in temperature has become known from study of ice cores extracted from Greenland, and has been verified from data from lake sediments elsewhere in Europe. Much further back in geological history, an episode some 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian era, has become known as “the great dying”, since 95% of all marine species and 70% of all terrestrial vertebrate species suffered extinction at that time. As such, this considerably exceeds the extinctions experienced by dinosaurs and others 65 million years ago. Although not the only contender as an explanation, a front-running theory for the cause of this “great dying” calamity is a sudden increase of temperature, of around 6°C.
Smaller calamities could prove disastrous as well, via the “threat multiplier” mechanisms. Social unrest that can (just about) be contained at the present time, may become completely unmanageable in the context of greater damage being inflicted regularly by adverse weather on agriculture, transport, and other key aspects of daily life. It is said that every society is only four square meals away from revolution and anarchy. That’s not a theory we should be in any hurry to test.
With the prospect of a range of calamities ahead of us, “business as usual” cannot continue.
Technology is not enough
The good news is that a number of technologies to systematically reduce the threat of damaging climate change are on the point of being developed and applied. The price of energy from wind, wave, and solar has been dropping steadily, decade after decade. New designs can improve capacity as well as drive down costs even further. After all, more than enough energy reaches the earth from the sun in just a few hours, to meet the needs of entire human population for a whole year. In principle, all that’s needed is to accelerate improvements in the harvesting, storage, and transmission of energy from renewable sources.
The bad news, however, is that the pace of implementing improvements is currently far too slow. Metaphorical mountains still need to be climbed. It’s not just that the generation of electricity needs to swap over from carbon-based to clean mechanisms. We also need widespread reforms of other economic activities that are responsible for more than fifty percent of greenhouse gas emissions – activities such as farming, transport, and the manufacture of steel and cement. Another complication is the shortage of the raw materials needed in the construction of solar panels, wind turbines, and other generators of clean energy.
Accordingly, political action to accelerate the transition is needed as a matter of high priority. This action includes significant subsidies for next generation green technologies – including next generation systems for energy storage and energy transmission. It also includes the reduction of subsidies (direct or indirect) for activities that increase greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, this action also includes the imposition of taxes on such activities – taxes that scale up over time.
Such actions will face trenchant opposition from the companies and organisations who are heavily invested in the status quo. This opposition cannot be overcome by friendly rational persuasion alone. Other sorts of forces will need to be applied in parallel – including economic forces, legislative forces, and a transformed public zeitgeist.
Steering short-term financials
One reason why fossil fuels continue to be used so widely is because of the short-term economic benefits that accrue to powerful corporations from the development and usage of these fuels. Many jobs are said to depend on these corporations continuing on their present trajectories. And many pension funds are heavily invested in the share price of these corporations.
Accordingly, many people are predisposed to latch onto any viewpoint they hear that minimises the need for disrupting the main activities of these corporations.
An example of such a viewpoint is that there is uncertainty over climate science. Another example is the idea that future technological solutions will be able to be introduced, in due course, to mitigate the results of climate change. What these viewpoints have in common is the basic claim that, whilst climate change is a matter of some concern, it doesn’t require any urgent policy changes. Any policy changes can be delayed to a future occasion, by which time new technologies will be more advanced. As it happens, such a delay will be convenient for the managers whose short-term bonus payments depends on the fossil fuel companies continuing along “business as usual”.
The fundamental problem with these viewpoints is that new technologies can take a long time to reach sufficient maturity. What’s more, the core research needed in order for these technologies to be developed will take place only if it receives strong funding – funding that is presently lacking.
What can cause the owners and managers of fossil fuel corporations to rethink their priorities?
One consideration is if a precedent is established of companies being sued for damage that can be attributed, as a matter of probability, to their operation. This is similar to the court cases suing tobacco companies for increasing the chances of cancer among smokers. Insurance and reinsurance companies may be very interested in this potential way of recouping the growing expenses they incur due to extreme weather events. Fossil fuel companies would need to start setting aside very significant sums of money in anticipation of such court cases.
Consider also a decline in market demand for fossil fuels, caused by a hike in the price of such energy due to carbon taxes (and drops in the price of energy from alternative sources).
Finally, another consideration is that the share prices of fossil fuel corporations may soon start to plummet, in what is known as the bursting of the carbon asset bubble. This will happen when investors increasingly reach the conclusion that, because of potential future legislation or the imposition of significant carbon taxes, many of the assets on the books of these corporations will prove to be unsellable. Much of the oil reserves will end up having to stay in the ground. As investors anticipate this outcome, they will start to sell their shares in companies dependent on fossil fuel energy production.
Alongside these “stick” approaches to changing the operations of energy companies, “carrot” approaches should be considered too. This includes incentives for energy corporations to grow units dedicated to quicker transition to greener sources, and an allocation to former employees from funds raised by carbon taxes.
A battle of ideas
There’s another factor leading many people to oppose any policy actions regarding climate change. This factor is the ideology of anti-centralism – the ideology which harbours deep suspicion of any attempts at centralised control over market forces.
The reasoning runs as follows. Any action against climate change will need to be global in scope. After all, the fossil fuel industry operates transnationally, and could circumvent any carbon taxes levied in just a single country. However, any mechanism of global coordination would put too much power into the hands of a single organisation. Sooner or later, any such organisation would impose legislation that stymies innovation and freedom. As such, any benefits arising from it would be more than offset by the tyranny of centralised control. Too much local sovereignty would be lost. That’s too large a price to pay.
People who embrace this anti-centralist view are predisposed – like the managers and owners of the fossil fuel companies – to find and champion arguments as to why there is no urgency to tackle climate change. They eagerly spread such arguments, even without being sure if they are valid. What matters in their mind is that the arguments sow doubt on the case for centralised control of global society.
Technoprogressives accept that there are potential dangers in centralised control. History shows many cases of leadership cabals that started off serving wider interests, but whose focus narrowed over time to their own self-preservation.
However, there’s no inevitability of a slippery slope from international agreements to a centralised international autocracy. Technoprogressives point to the possibility for international agreements to be developed and adopted, without losing multi-level democratic control over the matter.
Indeed, rather than saying that international agreements are bound to fail – or that they can only work if backed up by some kind of centralised police force – technoprogressives emphasise that more nuanced mechanisms are possible.
Consider international agreements on matters such as air traffic control, wireless spectrum allocation, emissions of ozone-depleting CFCs (as governed by the Montreal Protocol), and action in the face of disease epidemics (as coordinated by the WHO). Consider also the operations of bodies that coordinate world sports competitions.
What ensures that such global agreements can be developed and then observed (rather than ignored) is the force of international public opinion, expressing itself through local political structures.
In other words, instead of the ideology of anti-centralism – and instead of its polar opposite, which could be called “strong centralism” – technoprogressives envision the practice of superdemocracy being meaningfully extended from the national to the international level.
As the merits of the concept of superdemocracy become better appreciated, the passion that many people currently feel for the ideology of anti-centralism will diminish. They will increasingly appreciate that centralisation of powers has no need to be an “all or nothing” decision. Their fear will diminish of unwarranted loss of local sovereignty. Their hostility will decline towards the idea of negotiating treaties with international scope, to stop companies being able to escape paying substantial taxes on greenhouse gas emissions. And their willingness will grow to look rationally and objectively at proposals for serious action to prevent climate disruption.
Another factor that has delayed positive action against climate change over recent decades – a factor in addition to the short-term financial incentives of fossil fuel corporations, and the ideology of anti-centralism – is the habit of politicians to adopt “greenwash”.
This occurs when politicians appear to talk tough about taking action on climate change, but then make little real progress. Rather than confront the forces of inertia that support the status quo, they perform a kind of green theatre, hoping to gain some electoral benefit as a result. In many cases, their actual intentions probably never amounted to much.
Technoprogressives look forward to greater publicity being given to all divergences between the claims and the actual performance of politicians (and likewise for any other leaders in society). Mechanisms of better collective intelligence will highlight such discrepancies. In the face of improved transparency, society’s leaders will be more likely to move beyond the surface statements of greenwash towards deeper policy reform and substantive investment in next generation green technologies.
A role for nuclear energy
Different experts seem to disagree whether adoption of non-nuclear renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and wave, will be sufficient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently quickly to avoid major climate chaos. In view of this uncertainty, it’s worth keeping an open mind towards the potential of nuclear energy.
Nuclear fusion has an enormous potential, but progress with its projects has suffered repeatedly from issues of large-scale international coordination. This is an example where greater skills in collaboration are highly applicable.
For both nuclear fusion and nuclear fission, attention deserves to be given to various innovative designs with smaller modules and faster deployment times.
Nuclear fission has acquired a bad public reputation on account of major problems at Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island. There are also fears about crossovers from nuclear energy technology to nuclear weapons technologies. It is important to assess these risks calmly. On balance, it seems likely that the risks of inaction (avoiding progress with nuclear energy) significantly exceed the risks of careful positive action.
A role for geo-engineering
As a fallback option, some technologists are investigating geo-engineering solutions such as spraying particles into the atmosphere or oceans with a view to reducing global temperatures.
By their nature, such solutions risk triggering cascading side-effects of their own. It’s also possible that the results of such interventions will be far from uniform: some parts of the earth may be cooled, whilst others experience greater extremes of weather than at present.
These solutions also risk a rapid resurgence of global warming if, for whatever reason, they are turned off.
In summary, there are significant questions over the effectiveness of geo-engineering. It is appropriate to keep exploring variants of such solutions, in case accelerating climate change proves too hard to address by any other means. However, the first line of attack should be on the rapid transfer away from the types of energy usage (and other industrial practice) that give rise to greenhouse gas emissions. The second line of attack is to improve systems to extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Geo-engineering forms part of a third line of attack.
A wider view of environmental issues
Climate change due to greenhouse gases is only one of a number of potential environmental catastrophes that are on the point of being accelerated by unsustainable human practices.
Others include ocean acidification, excess accumulation of nitrogen and phosphorous due to the methods of large-scale agriculture, depletion of freshwater resources, and loss of biodiversity.
In each case, the pattern is the same. Methods are known that would replace present unsustainable practices with sustainable ones. By following these methods, life would be plentiful for all, without detracting in any way from the potential for ongoing flourishing in the longer term. However, the transition from unsustainable to sustainable practices requires overcoming very significant inertia in existing systems. In some cases, what’s also required is vigorous research and development, to turn ideas for new solutions into practical realities. Unfortunately, in the absence of short-term business cases, this research and development fails to receive the investment it requires.
In each case, the solution follows the same principles. Society as a whole needs to agree on prioritising research and development of various solutions. And society as a whole needs to agree on penalties and taxes that should be applied to increasingly discourage the unsustainable practices.
Left to its own devices, the free market is unlikely to reach the same conclusions. Instead, due to failing to assign proper values to various externalities, the market will produce adverse results. Accordingly, these are cases when society as a whole needs to constrain and steer the operation of the free market. In other words, technoprogressive politics needs to exert itself.
[ More material to be added here ]
8. An abundance of health and longevity
Aging and disease
Should aging be regarded as a disease?
It is preferable to say that aging should be recognised as the common cause of large numbers of diseases. As people become biologically older, they become more prone to affliction from all sorts of illness, and the effects of these illnesses become more serious.
Aging may be compared to bad hygiene. By overturning bad hygiene practice – and by promoting an understanding of the roles of germs, vaccinations, and antibiotics – large numbers of different infectious diseases could be impacted in parallel. In the same way, by fixing aging – and by promoting an understanding of the roles of cellular damage and extracellular damage in the development of chronic diseases – a huge impact can be made on the prevalence of these diseases.
The naturalistic fallacy
Isn’t death natural? Why fight against aging?
Just because something has been the norm in the past, it does not follow we should accept it and applaud it. The average life expectancy in the past was around 30 years of life. Huge numbers of children died before the age of five. This may be viewed as being “natural”. Technoprogressives instead affirm that humans can do better.
In the past, the world was full of slavery and caste discrimination. This may be viewed as being “natural”. Technoprogressives instead affirm that humans can do better.
In the past, smallpox was present all over the world, killing huge numbers of people. This may be viewed as being “natural”. Transhumanism instead affirms that humans can do better.
In the past, more than 90% of the population lived in abject poverty, and were illiterate. Starvation was just around the corner. This may be viewed as being “natural”. The Bible even has a verse in which Jesus of Nazareth says, “The poor you will always have with you”. Technoprogressives instead affirm that humans can do better.
In short, there is no need to accept the “naturalistic fallacy”.
Indeed, if there is one constant about human nature, it is the desire to do better than our natural allotment. That’s a part of human nature which technoprogressives heartily applaud.
As it happens, it turns out that some animals appear not to age. As these creatures become chronologically older, there is no increase in their likelihood of falling ill and dying. Such creatures are said to exhibit “negligible senescence”.
Accordingly, there is nothing in biology itself which requires living creatures to age. Nature already possesses mechanisms for bodies to repair themselves in response to damage.
Technoprogressives foresee that science and technology can adapt, extend, and augment such mechanisms to provide the equivalent of negligible senescence to humans.
Death and meaning
Is the prospect of death required in order to give life meaning?
That claim is no more valid than is the claim that the prospect of divorce is required in order to give a marriage meaning. The purpose of marriage is the development of the relationship itself, not the termination of that relationship. Similarly, the purpose of life is the development of life itself, not the termination of life.
The claim is also like saying that, without the existence of a supernatural God, life would have no meaning, and everyone would pursue utterly selfish behaviours. That view in effect regards humans as being juvenile. In reality, humans have plenty of other reasons for life to become deeply meaningful – and plenty of reasons to transcend egotism – without the need to believe in God.
With the advances of science, people will soon be able to choose whether they want to keep living, or whether they prefer to die. If some people, in a sound state of mind, prefer to choose death, that will be their right. But no-one should be able to impose such views on other people against their will.
Rejuvenation and social fluidity
If people no longer die, will dictators hold onto power indefinitely? Will career progression to positions with more responsibility be blocked, on account of the incumbents retaining their positions indefinitely?
Such views presuppose only that physical bodies will be rejuvenated, but mental structures and social structures will stagnate. Technoprogressives instead foresee elevation, not only of physical health, but also of mental capability and social dynamics. As conscious life evolves beyond the surface of the physical earth, there will be an abundance of new possibilities to be created and explored.
The threat of overpopulation
Would the elimination of aging and death result in overcrowding on the Earth?
Compared to the present, humanity can make far better use of the Earth as a whole. For example, huge swathes of land in some countries are presently devoted to large areas for cattle which are grown to be turned into meat for humans to eat. Improvements in lab-grown meat (using synthetic biology) can soon lead to a massive reduction in that kind of agriculture – and a reallocation of the land formerly dedicated for that purpose.
Technoprogressives also look forward to improved construction methods build large skyscrapers that are environmentally healthy, as well as being beautiful and inspiring to live in. In the longer term, technoprogressives anticipate space stations.
Healthcare and inequality
In many parts of the world, healthcare costs are currently so high that only a minority of people can afford them. Rather than costs falling for drugs and treatments, in some cases these costs are rising. This raises the prospect that therapies such as the abolition of aging will be available only to the wealthiest members of society. The existing “longevity gap” – the difference in life expectancy between the well off and the poor – may be exacerbated.
Such an outcome would be the result, not of bad technology, but of poor politics, and the breakdown of a market economy that would otherwise prioritise reducing the costs of healthcare.
Technoprogressives uphold the principle that society as a whole can set the priority that everyone will be able to enjoy an abundance of health and longevity.
The regulation of healthcare
Access to many medical treatments is highly regulated. Many drugs are available only on prescription. Before becoming available for prescription, drugs need to pass through lengthy and expensive testing procedures, checking for both safety and efficacy. Companies are only allowed to manufacture drugs if they possess certain licenses or meet demanding standards.
These regulatory systems were introduced in order to protect patients from treatments that were ineffective or unsafe. Without such systems, many patients would have died as a result of unsafe drugs, or would have spent large amounts of money unnecessarily. Another problem would have been the spread of resistance to antibiotics (if antibiotic drugs are used too often). In other words, these systems have the intention of protecting the general health of the population from bad medical practice (whether that bad practice is intentional, as in the case of fraud, or accidental, as in the case of incompetence).
However, an unintended consequence of regulatory systems is that access to new potential life-saving drugs can be delayed for long periods of time. Lacking the funding for extended trials, companies terminate investigations into various drugs before there is a chance to establish their true capabilities.
Technoprogressives anticipate a number of changes in healthcare that will preserve the intended benefits of the regulatory systems but diminish their drawbacks. The first category of changes is in improvements in testing new treatments. Advanced computer models can reduce the need for in-vivo trials. Improved understanding of variations between patients, in terms of their genetics, epigenetics, biome, and so on, can make it clearer which patients will actually benefit from a given treatment, and in which cases the same treatment would be dangerous. Other computer models can rapidly identify new uses for drugs which have already been proven to be safe from prior use treating other ailments.
Another category of change is in informed consent – when patients are fully aware of the risks and issues with a new drug, but decide to join a trial of it, whilst waiving their normal rights to sue for damages in case of adverse effects.
Finally, increased sharing of information between pharmaceutical companies, that normally carefully guard their research data (especially regarding failed approaches), will help society as a whole to avoid repeatedly wasting money essentially duplicating trials.
Public policy should prioritise all such steps, for the sake of greater human health, even though individual companies may fear some loss of revenue as a result.
It is also necessary to carry out searching reviews on a regular basis of the effects of regulatory systems, to determine options for improvements – especially in the light of new information. Any intrinsic tendency of regulatory systems towards self-preservation (inertia) should be met by powerful public counterforce. In parallel, any hidden vested interests of the regulators – such as prejudicial commercial ties to commercial companies – should be exposed and unwound.
Prevention rather than cure
The huge financial pressures faced by healthcare systems around the world can be alleviated by switching effort to prevention rather than cure. Rather than people adopting bad diets, bad lifestyles, or addictive drug regimes, and thereby becoming ill and requiring expensive treatments, it is preferable for people to adopt healthy diets and healthy lifestyles. Timely scanning for early signs of looming health issues, provided they avoid risks of numerous false positives, can also enable smaller interventions that cost less and have greater chance of success.
The switch from cure to prevention needs to overcome three issues. First, many companies will earn less revenues if the population remains healthier, since they can no longer provide expensive medical treatments on a long-term basis to people who have chronic conditions. Second, considerable confusion surrounds information about which diets and lifestyles are indeed healthy – since companies are skilled in marketing their products as being healthy even when that fact is debatable. Third, people often adopt bad diets and lifestyle, regardless of the information available to them.
In reverse order, these three issues can be overcome as follows. With greater emotional intelligence, psychological maturity, and a supportive social network, people will be less prone to making self-sabotaging choices. With better systems of collective intelligence, including the application of penalties for communications that are deliberately misleading, the existing fog of confusion can be lifted. And with wise steering of the economic environment, companies will be incentivised to provide services for prevention or early detection, rather than services that keep people chronically ill for long periods of time.
In parallel, the design of healthcare treatments need to consider human factors as well as technological ones. Factors that need greater attention include simplicity of use, respect for wide variations in expectation and habit between different patients, ease of incorporating treatments into diverse lifestyles, and sustainable business models.
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11. An abundance of collaboration and democracy
The impact of technology on politics
Just as technology can have either a bad or good influence on society, so also it can have either a bad or a good influence on politics.
The determining factor in both cases is the level of wisdom, strength, and agility brought to managing the technology. The more powerful technology becomes, the greater the need for wisdom, strength, and agility: the greater the need for clear thinking, and the greater the need to be ready to set aside previously long-cherished “instincts” or “identities”.
Some examples of bad influence:
Technology enables greater surveillance and greater manipulation of members of society by forces seeking extra influence. Technology powers subtle psychological techniques to frighten or incite people to choices that are different from their actual best interests.
Pressures to increase eyeball and click-through attention on social media result in posts that push people into emotional reactions rather than careful deliberation. Online interactions frequently propel participants to champion tribal instincts, cheering on pro-group “blue lies” rather than respecting objective analysis. With hearts on fire, smoke gets in the eyes.
Potential enormous impacts from cyber-sabotage, nerve agents, and various weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, and nuclear) – whether wielded by enemy states or by terrorist groups – raise tensions further, and risk driving politicians towards decisions that are more extreme and less considered.
Some examples of good influence:
In an extension to current technology that highlights misspellings or incorrect grammar in a document, technology can highlight which factual claims have been assessed as false or misleading.
Technology can highlight logical flaws in arguments. It can also draw attention to cases where the provenance of data is suspect – such as when photographs have been edited, or videos synthesised, to give a false impression.
Technology can facilitate the systematic collection and analysis of information relevant to decisions, in ways that build on the successes of Wikipedia.
By analysing arguments, technology can in due course suggest new proposals that integrate different perspectives in compelling ways, and thereby help build bridges between the opposing sides in a debate.
Technology can power simulated environments in which the potential outcomes of policy changes can be investigated in advance.
Finally, technology can assist politicians to deliberate more calmly on decisions, rather than being panicked into flawed decisions in tired or emotive circumstances.
Free speech without the panic
Let’s be honest about the flaws in how human form and hold viewpoints. With a better understanding of the psychological and sociological factors at work, we can liberate ourselves – and our fellow citizens – from the tyranny of distorted worldviews and unnecessary panics.
False information often changes outlooks in deep ways, so that opinions remain different from before, even after people have learned that the initial information was incorrect.
It’s similar to how the best advertisements not only change viewers’ preferences, but leave those viewers convinced that the changes arose from their own volition. The viewers may even forget they ever saw the advert – or deny that it had any impact on them.
Recognising these issues, society already applies financial penalties in cases when advertising or financial information is misleading. Advertisers are penalised if they make claims that are demonstrably false. Companies are penalised if the branding or packaging of their products misleadingly imitate those of higher quality products from more reputable companies. Financial bodies are penalised if they prematurely release price-sensitive information to only a subset of investors – or if they manipulate their accounts to give a misleading impression of their trading position.
Let’s be ready to apply similar sanctions and penalties in cases when the political discussion is deliberately distorted by false information, when participants fail to declare vested interests, and when inflammatory publicity risks the impartiality of ongoing jury reviews.
In this way, we can improve the calibre of the overall discussion, reducing the elements of emotional subversion, and maintaining open minds to ideas that, although initially disturbing, can lead to a better understanding.
At the same time, let’s watch the regulators very carefully. In the wrong hands, sanctions against the free expression of opinion can silence voices that ought to be heard. For this reason, satire must be protected – but only where it is made clear that the statement was not intended to be taken literally.
The result will be to preserve the vital benefits of free speech, whilst avoiding social chaos from remarks that are irresponsible or incendiary. We can, and should, have free speech without the panic.
No rights to no offence
It should never be a crime to criticise an idea. Ideas should be able to stand on their own feet, without needing the protection via censorship of opposing ideas.
If someone says they have been offended by criticism of an idea they personally hold dear, that is no reason to elevate that criticism into a crime. Instead, it’s a reason to marshall good arguments in support of the original idea – or (if such arguments prove to be insufficient) to be ready to accept a new idea in its place.
Specifically, technoprogressives allow no special legal protection for ideas declared to be religious, or foundational, or sacrosanct in some other way. Ideas matching these descriptions have proven in past times to become major obstacles to the progress of human flourishing – even if, in earlier times, they had been forces (on balance) for the collective good.
To enable a richer dialogue, laws on blasphemy should be removed from the statute book.
At the same time, let’s avoid any implication that huge numbers of people – such as people who nominally identify with the same religious faith – all hold rigidly to the same set of beliefs. Whilst being critical of particular ideas, let’s be ready to build constructive bridges with people who may assert some appreciation of these ideas. The best insights often arise from a synthesis of viewpoints that initially appear to be polar opposites. Significant contributions to the establishment of sustainable abundance will surely be made by people from religious communities of all hues.
The role of improved creative scepticism
To prevent ourselves being misled by clever arguments, let’s spread far and wide a better understanding of the flaws in reasoning to which we can fall victim – the numerous cognitive biases arising from the limitations of our biology and psychology.
This is no mere academic exercise. The vital skill of creative scepticism is something that can be strengthened via regular real-world practice.
Importantly, the practice of creative scepticism should transcend individual minds by embracing a collective dialogue. Participants can point out to each other – sensitively and constructively – ways in which we as individuals remain enthralled by particular flawed ideas. With the benefit of multiple streams of feedback, we can gain the strength to overcome our individual cognitive flaws.
This is similar to how the institution of science can make collective progress, despite biases and prejudices afflicting individual scientists. Provided a sufficiently wide set of opinions is included, peer group review can allow the community as a whole to withstand distortive pressures.
Turning down the volume, to increase the comprehension
At the same time as we encourage wider practice of improved creative scepticism, let’s take steps to lower the volume of the misleading information that circulates within the public debate.
In part, this reduction can take place via the sanctions, mentioned above, against communications that are deliberately misleading.
Additionally, limits should be placed on the amount of money that political organisations can spend. In principle, this will cut down on the influence of any one organisation. To prevent organisations working around these limits, strong measures of enforcement will be needed.
Nevertheless, in an age of growing abundance, clever political operators will find innovative ways to have their messages spread further and wider, at little cost. This involves mechanisms such as bot armies. In order to increase the prospects of a balanced debate, steps will be needed to identify, patrol, and curtail bot armies and the like – and to impose sweeping financial penalties on those found responsible for deliberately distorting the debate.
Beyond party politics
For politics to become a positive force, it must shed the impression that its protagonists frequently speak contrary to their actual opinions. Politicians need to become regarded as authentic communicators, rather than being two-faced.
Whilst there are benefits (such as economies of scale) from like-minded politicians banding together into political parties, the current system of political parties has its own drawbacks – including the imposition of the “party whip” on matters of high contention.
Let’s encourage politicians to speak their own minds, rather than having to follow party lines in cases where their own assessment differs from that of the party hierarchy.
Proportional Representation (PR)
Political systems with first-past-the-post elections pose unnecessarily high barriers of entry to newer ideas. Systems with proportional representation allow more fluid introduction of innovative political forces.
Political systems with proportional representation often lead to the need for parties to form coalition governments. The skill of forming coalitions is a positive asset which should be nurtured.
Political systems with large constituencies in which more than one politician is selected, can combine the positive aspects of proportional representation with the advantage of links between constituencies and elected representatives.
Towards political renewal
Should a political party be formed around the ideas in the Technoprogressive Plan?
Ahead of the formation and development of a party that seeks to win elections (locally, nationally, or supranationally), the first practical steps are to influence people in existing parties to adopt specific technoprogressive policies.
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To view a snapshot of the FAQ of this Technoprogressive Plan, see here.