7. International conflict

This page contains the current draft of the full text of Chapter 7 of RAFT 2035. All content is subject to change.

To offer comments and suggestions on the following material, please use this shared Google document.


7. International conflict

Goal 7 of RAFT 2035 is that risks of international military conflict will have been reduced by at least 90%.

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Goal 7 can be seen as an international version of Goal 6. Both these goals address the risks to human flourishing from violence and other crime. Goal 6 is for a 90% reduction of crime at local and national levels. Goal 7 considers the threat of violence and warfare at the international level.

In a world with ever more people having access to ever more powerful weapons, escalating conflict could bring civilisation to an end. Alongside possible attacks from other countries, we also need to consider threats from terrorist groups, international crime syndicates, and other sub-state organisations.

These groups may initiate actions for reasons we would judge to be deluded, misinformed, hasty, suicidal, or mad in some other way. However, these actions may still take place, despite the various sorts of insanity that might be involved. It would be like a repeat of the cascade of unintended consequences that led Europe in 1914 into the horrors of the first world war, following a period in which many people thought, wrongly as it turned out, that large-scale war had become a thing of the past.

However, the increased spread of nuclear technology, chemical weapons, biological pathogens, and cyberattack capabilities, means that a similar cascade of actions in our time could have consequences that are even more devastating than the carnage of the first world war.

This state of affairs is sometimes given the semi-humorous name “Moore’s Law of Mad Scientists”, on a suggestion from Eliezer Yudkowsky:

The minimum IQ required to destroy the world drops by one point every 18 months.

This is a threat that deserves very serious attention, to prevent international society from sleepwalking into disaster.

Building trust

One response to the threat of attack is to increase spending on defence budgets. Unfortunately, this would mean that significant portions of national resources are tied up in military forces, preventing their deployment on other uses that would be more productive. Moreover, when a potential attacker perceives that it is facing stronger defences, it can prompt further spending on increased aggressive capability, ratcheting an arms race. Any short-term perceived gains in security would likely be illusory.

It would be far better to deescalate current and future threat situations, through measures to build and sustain mutual trust. That is what RAFT envisions.

One factor that can reduce pressures towards conflict is an increased general understanding of the scale of abundance that lies ahead, as humanity takes fuller advantage of green technologies, nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, and other technological breakthroughs. These technologies have the potential to allow every person on earth to have a significantly higher standard of living than was available even to royalty only a few decades ago. This understanding should reduce the pressures on different groups to compete against each other for a larger slice of the pie. The pie will be large enough for everyone.

However, the mere fact of material abundance is insufficient, by itself, to prevent conflict and strife. There are other causes of conflict, including differences in ideology, inertia from runaway arms races, the perception of inflammatory insults, and other aspects of emotional immaturity. These are all factors that need to be handled better. Happily, these are all factors that can be handled better, via RAFT initiatives.

Rejuvenating international liaisons

Multilateral institutions can help counter these forces, but today’s United Nations and related organisations are falling far short of their potential in this regard. These organisations are overdue rejuvenation, starting with an update for the documents that define their purpose and operation. This refresh will clarify the potential beneficial role of the United Nations and related organisations in the world of the 2020s and beyond.

Regular exchanges between members of different groups from around the world, if skilfully facilitated, can also play an important role in deepening rapport and building trust. In the past, these exchanges involved international travel, but technologies such as immersive video conferencing can produce similar results at much lower costs. These online gatherings can and should be extended, to help more people escape from the mental shackles of constricting ideologies and backward-looking group-think.

International trustable monitoring

As in the case of Goal 6 – the reduction of crime by at least 90% – success with Goal 7 will require improved systems of trustable monitoring. This can include improved AI systems that highlight potential aggressive intent or potential pathways of unintended conflict escalation. Again as for Goal 6, these systems will need to become “above suspicion”, being respected by all parties. If their design and operation is transparent, such an outcome is more likely.

One particular challenge that international trustable monitoring needs to address is the risk of more ever powerful weapons systems being placed under autonomous control by AI systems. New weapons systems, such as swarms of miniature drones, increasingly change their configuration at speeds faster than human reactions can follow. This will lead to increased pressures to transfer control of these systems, at critical moments, from human overseers to AI algorithms. Each individual step along the journey from total human oversight to minimal human oversight might be justified, on grounds of a balance of risk and reward. However, that series of individual decisions adds up to an overall change that is highly dangerous, given the potential for unforeseen defects or design flaws in the AI algorithms being used.

Note that there can be agreement on at least some elements of trustable monitoring between groups that harbour considerable suspicion and antagonism towards each other. Consider how all commercial airliners contain a black box recording device. Rather than regarding this device as “snooping”, members of the airline industry understand the benefits to everyone from good records being made, which can be consulted in the event of airplane accidents, in order to improve aircraft safety. International agreements on air traffic control meet the same general pattern. Likewise the organisation of international post, international sports competitions, and lots more besides. The challenge will be to apply relevant positive principles from these fields in the more unstable field of international military conflict.

Interim targets

To accelerate progress with Goal 7, two targets for 2025 are proposed:

  1. To agree basic principles of the design and operation of systems for “international trustable monitoring”. Among other points, this should highlight measures to constrain any runaway escalation of adoption of lethal autonomous weapons.
  2. To establish a commitment from a majority of the countries in the United Nations to an updated version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which takes fully into account the remarkable transformational nature of the technologies highlighted in RAFT. It may take some time, subsequently, for this commitment to be backed up by action, but an agreement on basic principles will at least provide a start.

Moving forwards

As mentioned, one way to build trust across international borders is to increase the flow of personnel across these borders – in a managed way which avoids destabilising any of the countries involved. What this could mean in practice is the subject of the next chapter.

For more information

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RAFT 2035 – a new initiative for a new decade

The need for a better politics is more pressing than ever.

Since its formation, Transpolitica has run a number of different projects aimed at building momentum behind a technoprogressive vision for a better politics. For a new decade, it’s time to take a different approach, to build on previous initiatives.

The planned new vehicle has the name “RAFT 2035”.

RAFT is an acronym:

  • Roadmap (‘R’) – not just a lofty aspiration, but specific steps and interim targets
  • towards Abundance (‘A’) for all – beyond a world of scarcity and conflict
  • enabling Flourishing (‘F’) as never before – with life containing not just possessions, but enriched experiences, creativity, and meaning
  • via Transcendence (‘T’) – since we won’t be able to make progress by staying as we are.

RAFT is also a metaphor. Here’s a copy of the explanation:

When turbulent waters are bearing down fast, it’s very helpful to have a sturdy raft at hand.

The fifteen years from 2020 to 2035 could be the most turbulent of human history. Revolutions are gathering pace in four overlapping fields of technology: nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognotech, or NBIC for short. In combination, these NBIC revolutions offer enormous new possibilities – enormous opportunities and enormous risks:…

Rapid technological change tends to provoke a turbulent social reaction. Old certainties fade. New winners arrive on the scene, flaunting their power, and upturning previous networks of relationships. Within the general public, a sense of alienation and disruption mingles with a sense of profound possibility. Fear and hope jostle each other. Whilst some social metrics indicate major progress, others indicate major setbacks. The claim “You’ve never had it so good” coexists with the counterclaim “It’s going to be worse than ever”. To add to the bewilderment, there seems to be lots of evidence confirming both views.

The greater the pace of change, the more intense the dislocation. Due to the increased scale, speed, and global nature of the ongoing NBIC revolutions, the disruptions that followed in the wake of previous industrial revolutions – seismic though they were – are likely to be dwarfed in comparison to what lies ahead.

Turbulent times require a space for shelter and reflection, clear navigational vision despite the mists of uncertainty, and a powerful engine for us to pursue our own direction, rather than just being carried along by forces outside our control. In short, turbulent times require a powerful “raft” – a roadmap to a future in which the extraordinary powers latent in NBIC technologies are used to raise humanity to new levels of flourishing, rather than driving us over some dreadful precipice.

The words just quoted come from the opening page of a short book that is envisioned to be published in January 2020. The chapters of this book are reworked versions of the scripts used in the recent “Technoprogressive roadmap” series of videos.

Over the next couple of weeks, all the chapters of this proposed book will be made available for review and comment:

  • As pages on the Transpolitica website, starting here
  • As shared Google documents, starting here, where comments and suggestions are welcome.

RAFT Cover 21

All being well, RAFT 2035 will also become a conference, held sometime around the middle of 2020.

You may note that, in that way that RAFT 2035 is presented to the world,

  • The word “transhumanist” has moved into the background – since that word tends to provoke many hostile reactions
  • The word “technoprogressive” also takes a backseat – since, again, that word has negative connotations in at least some circles.

If you like the basic idea of what’s being proposed, here’s how you can help:

  • Read some of the content that is already available, and provide comments
    • If you notice something that seems mistaken, or difficult to understand
    • If you think there is a gap that should be addressed
    • If you think there’s a better way to express something.

Thanks in anticipation!

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