Vital Foresight

Vital Foresight

The Case For Active Transhumanism


Book availability

Ebook (Kindle) – Published on 23rd June 2021

Paperback – Published on 3rd July 2021 – ISBN 978-0-9954942-5-1


Endorsements for Vital Foresight

“This remarkably insightful and readable book gives us an empathetic and caring view of future possibilities, offered by someone who is still actively engaged in making things better.”
Kim Solez, M.D., Director of Technology and the Future of Medicine Course at the University of Alberta

“David Wood, in Vital Foresight, has provided us with a cogent and coherent scaffold on which to move progressively toward a greater appreciation of many issues that must be resolved for our survival. It deserves serious consideration by all readers.”
Gordon Silverman, Professor Emeritus, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Manhattan College

“David Wood is one of the best informed and most thoughtful people writing about the likely future impact of the exponential growth in the power of our most advanced technologies. In his latest book he offers practical advice about how we can all help to nudge the future in the directions we want.”
Calum Chace, author of Surviving AI, The Economic Singularity, Pandora’s Brain, and Pandora’s Oracle

“In a century of accelerating scientific progress we need a balanced perspective on its promises and perils. David Wood’s book offers just this in 17 well-informed chapters on how extremely advanced technology can affect all areas of society – work, environment, education, health, wealth distribution, to name a few – in the decades leading up to 2050, how society and its leaders must prepare for outcomes good and bad, and how to make the right choices. Vital Foresight is the must-read for any serious discussion about our future.”
Catarina Lamm, independent transhumanist and cryonicist, Oxford

“I consider David Wood to be the most prolific, competent, honest and dedicated technoprogressive futurist and transhumanist active today. With this book David vividly describes why and how the world could be a better place for sentient beings, what risks are involved, and what we could and should change and promote.”
Didier Coeurnelle, Vice President of AFT-Technoprog and co-chair of Heales (Healthy Life Extension Society)

“A smorgasbord of thought-stimulating insights about foresight. True to this book’s title, David masterfully assists you with thoroughly thinking through all that is of vital importance to make today and tomorrow much better for all of us. A must-have companion for any serious change-agent, futurist, transhumanist, singularitarian, and humanitarian.”
Philippe van Nedervelde, veteran serial NBIC tech-entrepreneur specialized in VR & AR metaverses

“I thoroughly recommend David’s book. It’s insightful, informative, with excellent research to reinforce the critical points.”
Steve Wells, Global Futurist, Informing Choices

“Transhumanist thinking is one of the few systems that directly projects itself into a technologically enhanced future in which even consciousness might be defined differently from today. In this book David Wood crosses the broadest range of areas that relate to this movement while pointing toward the need to adopt its key values. He advocates for a more active role to push for these values to avoid important civilisational risks we face. It is an inspiring book that sets up key discussion points to shape our future.”
Yates Buckley, Founding Partner, UNIT9, London

“David has a rare gift for condensing insights from diverse disciplines and threading that into language, that lets you hang on to the foresight periscope. In fact one could pick almost any chapter in the book and use that for generative dialogue, since there are stories and experiences swelling with hope, and even caution, commentary of movements over time, frank questions, and equitable insights. I see Vital Foresight as an important step in ongoing conversations to help provoke inquiry, and to inform and reframe our priorities.”
Ashish Manwar, Director, FoundationsEnterprise

Vital Foresight is the masterpiece of David Wood, who has already written very insightful and thoughtful books before. This book really makes you think about the future, indeed, about different possible futures. Where do you want to be in the years ahead? Vital Foresight will help you, me and everybody, to make better decisions based on our current and expanding knowledge ahead. If you want a better future, you have to read Vital Foresight. It might be a matter of life or death!”
José Cordeiro, Vice Chair, Humanity+


Extract from the Preface

“Transhumanism”?

“Don’t put that word on the cover of your book!”

That’s the advice I received from a number of friends when they heard what I was writing about. They urged me to avoid “the ‘T’ word” – “transhumanism”. That word has bad vibes, they said. It’s toxic. T for toxic.

I understand where they’re coming from. Later in this book, I’ll dig into reasons why various people are uncomfortable with the whole concept. I’ll explain why I nevertheless see “transhumanism” as an apt term for a set of transformational ideas that will be key to our collective wellbeing in the 2020s and beyond. T for transformational. And, yes, T for timely.

As such, it’s a word that belongs on the cover of many more books, inspiring more conversations, more realisations, and more breakthroughs.

For now, in case you’re wondering, here’s a short definition. It’s by Oxford polymath Anders Sandberg, who expressed it like this in 1997:

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

Sandberg’s 1997 webpage also features this summary from trailblazing Humanity+ Board member and Executive Director, Natasha Vita-More:

Transhumanism is a commitment to overcoming human limits in all their forms, including extending lifespan, augmenting intelligence, perpetually increasing knowledge, achieving complete control over our personalities and identities, and gaining the ability to leave the planet. Transhumanists seek to achieve these goals through reason, science, and technology.

In brief, transhumanism is a vision of the future: a vision of what’s possible, what’s desirable, and how it can be brought into reality.

In subsequent chapters, I’ll have lots more to say about the strengths and weaknesses of transhumanism. I’ll review the perceived threats and the remarkable opportunities that arise from it. But first, let me quickly introduce myself and how I came to be involved in the broader field of foresight (also known as futurism) within which transhumanism exists.

Smartphones and beyond

Over the twenty-five years that I held different roles within the mobile computing and smartphone industries, it was an increasingly central part of my job to think creatively and critically about future possibilities.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my work colleagues and I could see that computing technology was becoming ever more powerful. We debated long and hard, revisiting the same questions many times as forthcoming new hardware and software capabilities came to our attention. What kinds of devices should we design, to take advantage of these new capabilities? Which applications would users of these devices find most valuable? How might people feel as they interacted with different devices with small screens and compact keypads? Would the Internet ever become useful for “ordinary people”? Would our industry be dominated by powerful, self-interested corporations with monolithic visions, or would multiple streams of innovation flourish?

My initial involvement with these discussions was informal. Most of my time at work went into software engineering. But I enjoyed animated lunchtime discussions at Addison’s brasserie on Old Marylebone Road in central London, where technical arguments about, for example, optimising robust access to data structures, were intermingled with broader brainstorms about how we could collectively steer the future in a positive direction.

Over time, I set down more of my own ideas in writing, in emails and documents that circulated among teammates. I also had the good fortune to become involved in discussions with forward-thinking employees from giants of the mobile phone world – companies such as Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Fujitsu, and LG, that were considering using our EPOC software (later renamed as “Symbian OS”) in their new handsets. I learned a great deal from these discussions.

By 2004 my job title was Executive VP for Research. It was my responsibility to pay attention to potential disruptions that could transform our business, either by destroying it, or by uplifting it. I came to appreciate that, in the words of renowned management consultant Peter Drucker, “the major questions regarding technology are not technical but human questions”. I also became increasingly persuaded that the disruptions of the smartphone market, significant though they were, were but a small preview of much larger disruptions to come.

As I’ll explain in the pages ahead, these larger disruptions could bring about a significant uplift in human character. Another possibility, however, is the destruction of much that we regard as precious.

Accordingly, the skills of foresight are more essential today than ever. We need to strengthen our collective capabilities in thinking creatively and critically about future possibilities – and in acting on the insights arising.

Indeed, accelerating technological change threatens to shatter the human condition in multiple ways. We – all of us – face profound questions over the management, not just of smartphones, but of artificial intelligence, nanoscale computers, bio-engineering, cognitive enhancements, ubiquitous robots, drone swarms, nuclear power, planet-scale geo-engineering, and much more.

What these technologies enable is, potentially, a world of extraordinary creativity, unprecedented freedom, and abundant wellbeing. That’s provided we can see clearly enough, in advance, the major disruptive opportunities we will need to seize and steer, so we can reach that destination. And provided we can step nimbly through a swath of treacherous landmines along the way.

That’s no small undertaking. It will take all our wisdom and strength. It’s going to require the very highest calibre of foresight.

That’s the reason why I’ve spent so much of my time in recent years organising and hosting hundreds of public meetings of the London Futurists community, both offline and online – events with the general headline of “serious analysis of radical scenarios for the next three to forty years”.

I acknowledge, however, that foresight is widely thought to have a poor track record. Forecasts of the future, whether foretelling doom and gloom, or envisioning technological cornucopia, seem to have been wrong at least as often as they have been right. Worse, instead of helping us to see future options more clearly, past predictions have, all too frequently, imposed mental blinkers, encouraged a stubborn fatalism, or distracted us from the truly vital risks and opportunities. It’s no wonder that the public reputation of futurism is scarcely better than that of shallow tabloid horoscopes.

To add to the challenge, our long-honed instincts about social norms and human boundaries prepare us poorly for the counterintuitive set of radical choices that emerging technology now dangles before us. We’re caught in a debilitating “future shock” of both fearful panic and awestruck wonder.

Happily, assistance is at hand. What this book will demonstrate is that vital foresight from the field I call active transhumanism can help us all:

  1. To resist unwarranted tech hype, whilst remaining aware that credible projections of today’s science and engineering could enable sweeping improvements in the human condition
  2. To distinguish future scenarios with only superficial attractions from those with lasting, sustainable benefits
  3. To move beyond the inaction of future shock, so we can coalesce around practical initiatives that advance deeply positive outcomes.

The audience for Vital Foresight

This book will be of interest to everyone who cares about the future:

  • Everyone trying to anticipate and influence the dramatic changes that may take place in their communities, organisations, and businesses over the next few years
  • Everyone concerned about risks of environmental disaster, the prevalence of irrationalism and conspiracy theories, growing inequality and social alienation, bioengineered pandemics, the decline of democracy, and the escalation of a Cold War 2.0
  • Everyone who has high hopes for technological solutions, but who is unsure whether key innovations can be adopted wisely enough and quickly enough
  • Everyone seeking a basic set of ethical principles suited for the increasing turbulence of the 2020s and beyond – principles that preserve the best from previous ethical frameworks, but which are open to significant updates in the wake of the god-like powers being bestowed on us by new technologies.

it’s a book about the possibilities – indeed, the necessity – for radical transformation:

  • Transformation of human nature
  • Transformation of our social and political frameworks
  • Transformation of our relations with the environment and the larger cosmos
  • Transformation of our self-understanding – the narratives we use to guide all our activities.

Critically, the book contains practical suggestions for next steps to be taken, bearing in mind the power and pace of forces that are already remaking the world faster than was previously thought possible.

And it shows that foresight, framed well, can provide not only a stirring vision, but also the agility and resilience to cope with the many contingencies and dangers to be encountered on the journey forward.


Outline Table of Contents

  1. Scenarios
    • Two roads
    • Choosing the future
    • Good, bad, and vital
    • Beyond Mont Fleur
  2. Sleepwalking
    • Rousing from slumber
    • A world without foresight
    • Blinkers in place of binoculars
    • Once bitten, twice shy
    • Beyond sleepwalking
  3. Misperceptions
    • Famine
    • Plagues
    • Ice ages
    • Artificial Intelligence
    • Wars
    • Terrorism
    • Beyond misperceptions
  4. Landmines
    • The “left behinds”
    • WMD proliferation
    • Biotech hazards
    • Infotech hazards
    • Financial instabilities
    • Environmental instabilities
    • Democracy under threat
    • Cancers within society
    • Reason under threat
    • Divided nations
    • Divided aging
    • Beyond landmines
  5. Shortsight
    • Misled by evolution
    • Misled by exponentials
    • Misled by probabilities
    • Misled by confidence
    • Misled by normalcy
    • Misled by efficiency
    • Misled by immediacy
    • Misled by sovereignty
    • Misled by loyalty
    • Beyond shortsight
  6. Disruptions
    • Changing games
    • Integrating trends
    • Shifting gears
    • Evolving understanding
    • Accumulating treacle
    • Incurring debt
    • Enabling multitudes
    • Crossing chasms
    • Beyond disruptions
  7. Contingency
    • Chaotic amplification
    • Moonshot management
    • Cancer complications
    • Fusion delays
    • Surprise anticipation
    • Canary selection
    • Cholera disputes
    • Community vigilance
    • Landmine indicators
    • Beyond contingency
  8. Creativity
    • Thinking the unthinkable
    • Disrupting flows of oil
    • Destino Colombia
    • When change fails
    • When analysis fails
    • Superforecasters
    • Hedgehogs, good, bad, and vital
    • Transhumanist creativity
    • Accelerating returns
    • Beyond creativity
  9. Technology
    • Epochs and revolutions
    • Interacting changes
    • Technology overhang
    • Counting revolutions
    • Eating the world
    • Predicting ghosts
    • The productivity paradox
    • The special century?
    • Beyond technology
  10. NBIC
    • Foundations
    • Nanotech
    • Biotech
    • Infotech
    • Cognotech
    • Beyond NBIC
  11. Transhumanism
    • Sources of morality
    • Inspired by nature
    • Humanism
    • Humanism+
    • Questions answered
    • Transcending human nature
    • Transhumanist values
    • Transhumanist shadow
    • Precaution and proaction
    • Beyond transhumanism
  12. Antitheses
    • Eugenics
    • Totalitarianism
    • Scientism
    • Technocracy
    • Utopianism
    • Divisive
    • Hubris
    • Wishful thinking
    • Utilitarianism
    • Data-centrism
    • Ableism
    • Neocolonialism
    • Attachment
    • Unnecessary
    • Misnamed
    • Religion
    • Beyond antitheses
  13. Politics
    • Democratic failures
    • Minimalism
    • Markets and their failures
    • Dividing responsibility
    • Separation of power
    • Superdemocracy
    • Party politics
    • Beyond national politics
  14. Geopolitics
    • Chemical warfare
    • International health
    • International tension
    • A climate for change
    • Contemplating extinction
    • Profound communication
    • Beyond politics
  15. Education
    • Out with the old
    • Six upgrades
    • Whither employment?
    • Changing attitudes
    • The vital syllabus
    • Free education for all
    • Beyond today’s academia
  16. Juncture
    • The “left behinds”
    • WMD proliferation
    • Biotech hazards
    • Infotech hazards
    • Financial instabilities
    • Environmental instabilities
    • Democracy under threat
    • Cancers within society
    • Divided nations
    • Reason under threat
    • Divided aging
    • Beyond juncture
  17. Singularity
    • Why I am a singularitarian
    • Singularity shadow
    • Unsound criticisms
    • A physics singularity
    • Shouting into the cosmos
    • Terminating the simulation
    • Becoming gods
    • The singularity principles
    • Two non-solutions
    • Final words

Note: The cover of Vital Foresight incorporates elements of a graphic design from Pixabay user Fruity-Paws, used with gratitude.


Endnotes

A clickable copy of the list of endnotes from the book is available here.

Recent Posts

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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