Championing the Future

What are the most important issues that deserve full attention, during the campaigns leading up to the UK General Election on 8th June?

GE_2017

Should this election be dominated by the single issue of “Brexit”? That’s the issue given prominence by Prime Minister Theresa May as she called this snap election.

The Prime Minister wants the votes in GE2017 to deliver her a clearer power base, and therefore a stronger negotiating position with the other countries of the EU during what is anticipated to be a difficult set of discussions over the next two years.

In brief, the three main political parties in England and Wales (to set aside for the moment the special conditions that apply in both Scotland and Northern Ireland) have Brexit positions as follows:

  • The Conservatives have committed to a decisive break with the EU – leaving the single market and the customs union – and in the event of a failure of negotiations, with no framework relationship at all with the EU
  • The Conservative are also committed to giving, via the “Great Repeal Bill”, UK government ministers ongoing discretionary power over thousands of legal decisions which previously required either EU or UK parliamentary review
  • Labour have also committed to following through with a break from the EU, but don’t support “Brexit at any cost”; instead they advocate “Brexit with social justice”
  • Labour demand that the final negotiated terms will be put to the UK parliament for verification, though they have not clarified what they want to happen if Parliament rejects these terms (that is, whether the UK might in that case seek to retain its membership in what could be a reformed EU)
  • The LibDems are pushing for the UK to remain in the single market and the customs union
  • The LibDems also champion the ability of the UK Parliament to vote, at the end of the negotiations with the EU, for the UK to remain inside the EU after all, in case it has become clearer by that time what costs and drawbacks an exit will incur, and that many the presumed benefits of separation are illusory.

But should the GE2017 decision be decided entirely by views about Brexit?

That question hinges, in the first instance, on how seriously you view the consequences of a “wrong” Brexit outcome. Both sides of the Brexit debate contain people who see the matter as having fundamental importance:

  • Passionate Leave supporters highlight what they see as impending crises within the EU zone. The Euro is about to fail, they say. The EU operates opaquely, with no transparency. It increasingly lacks democratic support for its empire-building aims. Better for the UK to be as far away as possible from this forthcoming major train wreck. So long as it remains constrained by EU processes, the UK will be unable to adopt the policies needed for its own best future prospects
  • Passionate Remain supporters, on the other hand, forecast what will be a “Titanic” outcome of Brexit, to refer to an unfortunate choice of words from Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary – words turned into a scathing black comedy video by Comedy Central UK

However, I’m drawn to the observation made by sustainability advocate David Bent at a recent London Futurists event:

If you’re worried about leaving the European Union… I worry more about leaving the safe zone for civilisation on our global planet

Slide 31

David was referring to the prospects of forthcoming runaway climate change: the departure of the Earth from the “Holocene era” to an “Anthropocene era”. See from around 13-18 minutes into this recording of the event:
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The bigger issues

Climate change is an example of the category of “existential issues” – issues that might radically alter the well-being of human existence on planet Earth, well within many of our lifetimes.

These issues include existential threats but also existential opportunities. What they have in common is that, unless we give them sufficient attention in advance, our room for manoeuvre may rapidly diminish. It may become too late to head off an existential threat (such as runaway climate change), or too late to take hold of an existential opportunity (such as investing vigorously in next-generation green technologies).

In all these cases, we may end up realising, too late, that we had been concentrating on lesser matters – matters that appeared urgent – and lost sight of the truly important ones. Too much debate over the swings and roundabouts mechanics of Brexit, for example, may lead us to forget about the actions needed in many other areas of forthcoming radical change. Too much focus on the present-day rough-and-tumble may prevent us from championing the future.

That’s why Transpolitica urges serious attention, in the run-up to GE2017, to a number of potential existential issues. We need politicians who will commit to devoting significant energies to developing practical plans to enable the following:

  1. Next generation green technologies, including those for better storage and transmission of clean energy
  2. Healthcare solutions that address the causes of ill-health and disease, rather than just trying to patch people up after the onset of chronic illness – these solutions include regenerative medicine and other rejuvenation therapies, to be made available and affordable to every citizen
  3. Radical solutions, as a subset of the previous case, for the growing crisis of mental ill-health, including dementia, as well as depression
  4. Transitioning society away from one in which we live to work (with the aim of near full employment) to one in which we live to flourish (with the aim of near full unemployment) – this transition may become especially pressing, with the rapid onset of technological unemployment and technological under-employment in the wake of robots, AI, and other automation
  5. Foreseeing and forestalling the risks to societal well-being from widespread surveillance (by both corporations and governments), and from pervasive online infrastructures that are increasingly vulnerable to security flaws and other errors in software implementation (including powerful AI algorithms that operate with unexpected biases)
  6. Mechanisms for better debates on political topics – debates freed from distortions such as fake news, deliberately misleading statements, overly powerful press barons, deceptive intentions being kept hidden, and the flaws of the “first past the post” election system
  7. Mechanisms for effective international collaboration, that supersede and/or improve upon the existing troubled operations of the UN, the IMF, and more local organisations such as the EU.

The last of these issues takes us full circle. Proper solutions to the big issues of the near-future depend upon a healthy international environment. If you think that the UK leaving the EU will significantly impact, for better or for worse, the UK’s ability to address the other big issues, then maybe you would be correct, after all, to prioritise the Brexit issue in the GE2017 campaign.

But only if we keep these other issues in mind too.

Footnote

Some of the themes covered above are likely to feature in the London Futurists event happening on 29th April, “Who can save Humanity from Superintelligence”, addressed by Tony Czarnecki, Managing Partner of Sustensis.

Here’s an extract from the description of that event:

The presentation will cover four overlapping crises Humanity faces today – crises in the domains of politics, economics, society, and existential risk. The presentation will also provide a vision of a possible solution, with a reformed European Union becoming the core of a new supranational organization having the best chance to tackle these problems.

The world faces a series of existential risks. When combined, the chance of one of these risks materializing in just 20 years is at least 5%. We already had one such “near miss” that could have annihilated the entire civilization. That was the Cuban crisis in October 1962, which almost started a global nuclear war…

Additionally, mainly due to the advancement in technology, the world is changing at almost an exponential pace. That means that change, not just in technology but also in political or social domains, which might previously have taken a decade to produce a significant effect, can now happen in just a year or two. No wonder that people, even in the most developed countries, cannot absorb the pace of change that happens simultaneously in so many domains of our lives. That’s why emotions have overtaken reason.

People are voting in various elections and referenda against the status quo, not really knowing what the problem is, even less what could be the solution. Even if some politicians know what the overall, usually unpleasant solutions could be, they are unlikely to share that with their own electorate because they would be deselected in the next election. The vicious circle continues but at an increasingly faster pace…

Anyone wanting to improve the situation faces three problems:

  1. Existential risks require fast action, while the world’s organisations act very slowly
  2. People want more freedom and more control, while we need to give up some of our freedoms and national sovereignty for the greater good of civilisation and humanity
  3. Most people can’t see beyond tomorrow and act emotionally, while we need to see the big picture and act rationally.

Therefore, anybody that sees the need for the world to take urgent action faces a formidable task of proposing pragmatic, fast and very radical changes in the ways the world is governed.

For more details of this event – and to RSVP to attend what will surely be a lively discussion – click here.

Transpolitica 2016 – The questions asked

This page provides a public record of all the questions or comments submitted electronically via the Glisser tool in response to the presentations at Transpolitica 2016.

The number before each question indicates the number of upvotes received by the question.

David Wood, Executive Director, Transpolitica: “What prospects for better politics?”

  • 2: I fear that these suggested solutions might have the opposite effect to the desired and further decrease the need for critical evaluation of information. The solution should be to change the education from fact based to thinking based.
  • 1: The problem with typing text questions is you have to stop focusing on the speaker 😦
  • 0: Following on from this, a rating system for the publications/individuals which would potentially affect their funding, ad’s less likely to be hosted with them.
  • 0: How will these developments affect the job market? Have any studies been on this subject?

Alex Flamant, Notion Capital: “Accelerating the regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles”

  • 3: Have you seen the MIT Moral Machine site on the ethics of autonomous driving technology? Will the public be able to accept the reality of decisions being taken like this?
  • 2: What do you think about self owning cars? (Bitcoin + uber + self driving)
  • 2: In which countries will AV be approved first?
  • 1: To mitigate against public fears how are the companies developing these technologies going to disclose the moral decision making process? When they are currently being secretive and competitive.
  • 1: But most people love driving!
  • 1: What happened in the Tesla crash that resulted in a death?
  • 0: Will cars in their present form be able to be updated to autonomous?
  • 0: Would this not make cars an expense for the rich and turn shared cars into personal busses?
  • 0: What is EU commission doing?
  • 0: From a car-hater: will cities put a total limit to number of cars?
  • 0: Would giving an AV permission to kill humans not potentially open the floodgates re Asimov’s first law of robotics?
  • 0: If economies of scale will network effect and therefore concentration of power, then what does that mean for our politics!
  • 0: On level 4 (full automation) the car would have to make a decision in the potential accident, how do you install ethics into a car when accident is inevitable? Would we need to install something similar to human reasoning? And if so, could it be global or only country specific?
  • 0: Is the huge economic impact not a problem – it seems many jobs from cab drivers to mechanics going out of business, especially if big companies do as you say and share say 200,000 vehicles that they maintain themselves?
  • 0: How should we cope with inevitable loss of job categories (taxi driver, lorry driver, bus driver,…)?

Anna Harrington Morozova, Scientific and Regulatory Director, REGEM Consulting: “Opportunities for changes in governance of biomedical innovations: choosing your battles”

  • 8: What would you say to opening up academic publishing sites to close the public-expert gap
  • 8: Surely a major source of conflict in this area is the vast evidence of amoral behaviour from large corporations?
  • 5: GMO crop companies like Monsanto monopolise seeds and make their seeds stetile to prevent reuse and force farmers to repurchase seeds each year, at premiums. GMO has a lot to offer, but do experts not see the problem it has already caused in the US?
  • 3: Interesting! Isn’t it important to define the main goals of our scientific “battles”. For me, number one is life extension, number two existential risks and number three: happiness. And for you?
  • 3: Are the FDA and other regulators sufficiently up-to-date with innovative new medical tech like personalised medicine?
  • 2: Withdrawing NHS funding for Alzheimer’s disease wasn’t very NICE of them.
  • 1: Pity the public is so badly educated!
  • 1: Experts fail in explaining the uncertainty in their conclusions: do you agree?
  • 1: Did you say you had a magnet? What is that?

Didier Coeurnelle, Co-president of Heales, “Making longevity politically mainstream, or die trying”

  • 6: Why don’t you put more focus on the economic arguments? National healthcare budgets are in crisis worldwide
  • 5: The older generation often struggles to adapt and understand the younger generation, they tend to be more conservative. Wouldn’t longevity stall the innovation?
  • 5: Would we still spend 50% of health care in last 6 months of life when aged 200?
  • 4: Are Aubrey de Grey and Ray Kurzweil aware of Heales and what are points of disagreement, if any, with their views?
  • 4: In the UK over the past few decades, improvements in healthcare have disproportionately extended the life expectancy of the most well-off in society. The life expectancy of the poorest has increased less than the richest. What market or political mechanisms would mean that the poorest benefited first?
  • 3: Would a longer lifespan result in a less efficient lifespan? In other words, what can you accomplish after the age of 80?
  • 3: Why is there a need to extend the lifespan or potentially get closer to immortality? What do you see people filling their spare time with?
  • 2: Given recent political trends in Europe in America, is it better for futurists to engage with the public and politics from the left or from the right?
  • 1: You didn’t mention grass roots activism for life extension?
  • 1: As longevity treatment is still in development, shouldn’t the public prioritise less work and improved access to healthier food, to better improve current life quality?
  • 0: Is our ability to support so many more people progressing at same pace as medical progress?

Alex Pearlman, Science Journalist, Kings College London: “The political future of genetic enhancements”

  • 3: Is ‘genetically better’ always the same as ‘better human’? Evolution is no respecter of species. Perhaps genetically better tends towards species differentiation. Do we have even the beginning of a politics that can address this?
  • 3: Would this not lead to less innovation as people will naturally seek to make their lives easier, and so flow towards these genetic changes. This would remove important perspectives born from experiences of hardship and challenge, and they are a central factor behind innovation.
  • 2: Compared to nuclear/atomic technology would you see human gene tech as deserving of a lesser/same/greater level of regulatory oversight and national/intergovernmental agreement and treaties?
  • 2: Is there a debate in China?
  • 1: Given the impending life extension tech and even the singularity, are genetic engineering technologies really all that significant?
  • 1: Why do you think transhumanism is white/male dominated and how should this be addressed?
  • 0: Why opinion of politicians is so important? If we simply do not want them to be the decision makers in subjects they are not any better experts than any other uneducated member of public, we need seemply push them away handing over the decision making to more capable and educated panel. Give politicians less attention and contribute to rise of expert community input.

José Cordeiro, Founding Energy Advisor/Faculty, Singularity University: “Practical and legal steps towards European cryonics”

  • 6: At present cryonics is nothing but a new belief system about afterlife. And businesses charging believers money to perform the ritual in line with that mythology. Please address how are you different from the older religions
  • 5: If we cure death, how do we decide which of 10 billion people get to live forever?
  • 5: Who pays the ongoing costs to keep clients cryogenically frozen? What if the business runs out of funds?
  • 4: Were the worms frozen alive? Is there a difference between the likelihood of being able to bring someone back if they have already died as opposed to being frozen when alive?
  • 3: Cryonics is essentially freezing a dead body. Reigniting the neurons in a brain may never be possible.
  • 2: When will the technology reach the point to successfully reanimate a cryopreserved human body?
  • 2: Any rejuvenation treatment available today?
  • 2: Why just worms and not mice?
  • 1: If King of Spain is cryogenically preserved, who will be king when he is reanimated?
  • 1: Scientists have for years been freezing worms, simply by putting them in -20 degrees freezer. We have some in the lab and they come back to life in 30 mins. I feel that a lot of facts on that topic are presented subjectively.
  • 1: What are you planning to do with your immortality?

Panel discussion featuring: Timothy Barnes, Founder and Senior Deity, The Rain Gods; Kathryn Corrick, COO Represent.me; Dan Brown, Director of Meganexus Ltd

  • 11: Do recent events (eg Brexit) show that voters are generally poorly informed and not well-placed to decide on complex issues?
  • 7: How do you ensure the Represent tool does not just become a lobbying tool for particular factions?… ie loaded language add.
  • 6: Digital disruption isn’t ambitious enough. We need to modernise the hundreds of years old ways of policy and law making. Discuss!?
  • 6: Rather than new tech replacing existing ways of working, should we not be asking how the role of government changes in a the age of networked populations?
  • 5: The key issue is how do governments add value to society?
  • 4: Can you comment on the fact that last few years phone numbers and email addresses disappeared from local councel websites. They may be digitilised but became much less accesable or accoubtable. What is the point exactly? Increased convenience for government to hide from public?
  • 1: Rents are cheaper in Berlin! And it will stay in EU
  • 1: Why so much focus on helping offenders when so many non-offenders cannot find jobs?
  • 1: Because the cost of offenders and reoffending is more to government.
  • 1: Does represent.me get any feedback from the government and do you have any examples when collected data influenced government decisions?
  • 0: How much AI is behind Represent.me?
  • 0: No! Communication isn’t the problem. The problem is transparency into who says what and why … #trust … There really isn’t a paucity of low barrier comms
  • 0: Could you address the matters of increased transparency with intriduction of digitalisation and the demand for higher level of trust to officials it brings. Would we need different type of governers as a result, these we can trust more.
  • 0: How will represent.me represent those outside the online community?
  • 0: Is this really different from 38Degrees or the Govt’s Petition.Parliament.uk

James Smith, Party Leader, Something New: “Building the world’s first open-source political manifesto”

  • 5: In my understanding OpenSource, in Linux unresolved questions can cascade up and up, until eventually the founder (Linus?) has to give a decision on most intractable. Is that the case here, adn therefore are early adopters / most frequent users most powerful?
  • 3: “massively distributed deliberation” for democracy as labour puts it is a fine ambition. Massive surveillance. Massive data. Massive deliberation. … Needs massive transparency to counter maybe misbehaviour. Discuss!?
  • 3: Couldn’t this same strategy of using github as an interface for seeing diffs over manifesto changes be applied to existing parties? Why is a new party required?
  • 2: Normally open source projects only have a handful of contributors who care enough about the code to get involved in the discussion process. Surely this would break down when you have millions of people who want to have a say?
  • 2: Is it really not a problem for James if he has no info on those Open Source contributors? Am thinking of people adding anonymously info to Wikipedia which benefits themselves and which isn’t based in fact (eg some UK MPs been caught at this!)
  • 1: Why don’t you allow blocked posts into the discussion? Isn’t the whole point of democracy that somebody always will disagree?! How do you ensure objectivity if you only built on what majority agrees on?
  • 1: Could other parties use your tools and systems for their own policy decisions?
  • 1: Why limit at the British level, why not at the world level this new democracy?
  • 1: Who edits the content? How do you control the quality of the material? How about if you don’t agree?
  • 0: Open democracy and “being back hanging” ?
  • 0: Is your ‘exit strategy’ to sell your platform to main parties?
  • 0: Have there been any forks?

Jason Blackstock, Head of Department, UCL STEaPP, “Practical steps towards better public decision-making”

  • 6: How do we solve the problem that large corporates like Facebook are run by small ‘boards’, primarily for profit, which is maximised by creating the echo chambers?
  • 4: Would you applaud the local trials of UBI (e.g in Dutch citites and Finland) as good examples of the experimental approach to politics that you advocate?
  • 1: Challenges faced by policymakers? Or challenges faced by citizens? There is a fundamental difference. Outside in view vs inside out view.
  • 0: I got a remote house with custom built satitation. As we built it I learnt all about sewage functioning and deal with its maintainance. If anything I feel empowered by that knowledge. And this makes me happier. Your statement that bad toilets, or a need to manage it, can make people unhappy got no factual grounds.

Alexander Karran, Senior Researcher, Transpolitica: “Surveillance capitalism: making big data work for all”

  • 5: Instead of storing data on the block chain, why not just encrypt it so it is only visible to those it was intended for, not the platform
  • 3: Our personal data must remain ours. Irrevocably. All “T+C” null and void. By a new Digital Bill of Rights Law. … Then all corporate use is only by temporary loan with power always with the human owner. …
  • 2: Don’t we swap our data for free Facebook?
  • 1: How does your solution deal with the self mirror issue? £10 for my data is not worth my son losing his opportunity to develop?
  • 1: Do we need to start with children’s education and ensuring digital rights are as familiar to young people as their human rights?
  • 0: Block chain is not the panacea. It’s only good for venture capital….

Tony Czarnecki, Managing Partner, Sustensis: “From long-term sustainable growth to the economy of abundance”

  • 7: Why do you say that knowledge doubles each year? Maybe, it is the quantity of data, but I do not think we do double our real knowledge each year (no new quantum theory each year for example).
  • 5: Is your roadmap to shared values and democracy based on “western” assumptions? Does it cope with cultural differences?
  • 3: What is your opinion on redistributing retirement throughout one’s life instead of receiving it in bulk at the end?
  • 2: How will these proposals ever come to pass? I agree that many of these things are needed but are they politically feasible. In what sense of ‘real world’ is this real world?
  • 0: If I understand correctly it is a democratic view restricted to a part of the population with some people having more rights than others (more weight). Do I understand correctly?

Dean Bubley, Founder, Disruptive Analysis: “Technological Unemployment? We can work through it”

  • 2: If 95% of someone’s job can be automated, won’t this mean that many fewer employees are needed?
  • 2: Can you comment on models like Uber which can disrupt existing sectors very quickly – benefitting consumers but at the expense of workers?
  • 1: Don’t the short term employment gaps only exacerbate the unemployment issue in the medium term when automation replaces those jobs (e.g. we train more lorry drivers, only to have to lay larger numbers of them off from 2018)?
  • 1: “Things don’t change overnight” but most people adapt at a _much_ lower pace, if ever. Therefore things do change “overnight”, Don’t they?
  • 1: What’s your opinion about impact different political and economic ideologies could have on how tech unemployment progresses?
  • 0: Paul Mason points to 6 guys with rags doing carwashes where once we had machines. If wages are low, why invest in automation?
  • 0: Is the issue not less about the lack of work and the impact of automation on inequality and on the environmental impact of the level of consumption required to sustain wage growth in an automated world?

Chris Monteiro, Principal contributor, H+Pedia: “Perceptions and projections of futurist political scenarios”

  • 3: Does State Fascism have to be necessarily dystopian? Are we not limiting ourselves categorising like that?
  • 2: What all those sci-fi scenarios get very wrong (hopefully) is that they still show _old_ people in the future. Did we abandon all rejuvenation pursuits?
  • 2: Might VR (Virtual Reality) not give people the chance to choose their own utopia where they can spend at least part of their time?

Final review questions (but there was no time to hold this session)

  • 1: Don’t like term Transhuman!
  • 1: Education is fundamental to the way society’s work. Pity not explicitly covered in otherwise excellent meeting today
  • 0: With 2008 crash most folk are pissed off with the politial establishment. That’s why we have Brexit, Corbyn and Trump. Governments must take on current form of capitalism

Transpolitica book launch – video recording

This London Futurists event marked two developments in the political landscape:

  1. The publication of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”
  2. The introduction of the Transhumanist Party in the UK.

The speakers at this event, David Wood and Amon Twyman, addressed the following questions:

  • How should politics change, so that the positive potential of technology can be safely harnessed to most fully improve human society?
  • What are the topics that politicians generally tend to ignore, but which deserve much more attention?
  • How should futurists and transhumanists regard the political process?
  • Which emerging political movements are most likely to catalyse these needed changes?

The camera was operated by Roland Schiefer.

Note: the camera auto-focus sometimes focused elsewhere than the main presentation screen, which means that, occasionally, some parts of the display are fuzzy.

The slides presented by David Wood at this event can be viewed on Slideshare, here.