Technology is eating politics

Press release: Transpolitica 2016 conference roundup

Futurists and transhumanists at Transpolitica 2016 highlight how the acceleration of technological change poses widespread opportunities and challenges for politics

2016 has been a momentous year for politics. Will 2017 be a year of retrenchment and consolidation?

That would be unlikely according to participants at Transpolitica 2016, a London Futurists event (London, Birkbeck College, 3 December 2016) which forecast powerful socioeconomic pressures and a rise in political turbulence in the face of the rapid pace of technological change.

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Echoing the famous phrase of web software pioneer Marc Andreessen, “Software is eating the world”, the takeaway from Transpolitica 2016 is “Technology is eating politics”.

New technological possibilities urgently demand fresh thinking regarding potential regulations, restrictions, incentives, subsidies, and equality of access.

  • Faster communications via social media, rather than delivering an Internet-enabled “wisdom of crowds”, have been multiplying the spread of fake news that ingeniously but maliciously propagates itself, sowing confusion and fracturing communities into opposing segments that operate within self-reinforcing antagonistic bubbles
  • Rather than a useful discussion taking place between “experts” and the public, suspicion and distrust have increased dramatically, under pressure from change that seems too rapid and chaotic, and which evidently leaves too many people behind
  • Genetic editing, using techniques such as CRISPR, is already eliminating various diseases and enabling “better than well” quality of life, but for some threatens socially destabilising “designer babies for the 1%”
  • Financial pressures from failing healthcare systems could be alleviated following smart investment into anti-aging treatments and rejuvenation therapies that are, however, opposed by certain groups as “unnatural”
  • Principles adapted from open source development can be applied to enable the collaborative creation and public review of new political policies
  • Innovations from civtech and politech are yet to be applied in political governance and the civil service in the way fintech is being applied to the financial sector
  • Driverless cars are poised to significantly cut accident rates and reduce pressures on the environment, but necessitate legislative support and changes in public mindset
  • Automation and AI are predicted to transform many jobs, requiring large-scale retraining and a medium to long term transition to a viable form of universal basic income
  • The advent of the Internet of Things is resulting in surveillance capitalism that uses streams of human-generated data to manipulate consumers as never before
  • Improved algorithms, linked to growing pools of big data, stand ready to usher in a new age of algogracy as an evolution of democracy, potentially sidestepping the perceptual and reasoning biases of voters, though risking the profound subversion of politics by whichever organisations control the algorithms in use
  • Divisions between bioprogressives and bioconservatives will complicate existing political categories, and accelerate a likely realignment of political parties.

David Wood, Executive Director of Transpolitica, commented as follows:

At a time when many people are wearying of political engagement, it’s all the more important to enable a thoughtful, informed discussion about the disruptive role of new technology in politics. What’s most needed is clarity on the way that technology, wisely deployed, can dramatically enhance the quality of life for everyone. This technoprogressive transhumanist vision of sustainable practical abundance can fill the void that is currently driving voters into warring camps.

Alexander Karran, Senior Researcher at Transpolitica, added:

The same set of technologies that threaten manipulation and dehumanisation also have the potential, if mixed in different ways, to provide personalised healthcare, emotional and cognitive support and enhancement, better economic modelling, and comprehensive solutions to deep social problems. But society’s leaders will need the foresight to grasp these possibilities and the agility to turn them into reality.

Notes to editors:

The stated theme of Transpolitica 2016 was “Real world policy changes for a radically better future”. The declared goal of the conference was:

To formulate and review policy recommendations which can become the focus of subsequent cross-party campaigns for legislative changes. In turn, these legislative changes will have the aim to enable better politics, better communities, and better human experience – by allowing society to take good advantage of the remarkable transformational potential of accelerating technologies.

Transpolitica researchers, along with activists in the Transhumanist Party (UK), plan to initiate a number of technoprogressive campaigns in the opening months of 2017.

Recordings of the presentations and discussions from Transpolitica 2016 are in the process of being added to the event website.

Transpolitica is a technoprogressive think tank whose objective is to facilitate better public and political engagement with the social, economic and political opportunities presented by new technologies. It is associated with the H+Pedia project whose purpose is to spread accurate, accessible, non-sensational information about transhumanism among the general public. Transpolitica also works with the UK Transhumanist Party whose aim is grassroots engagement with issues raised by increased use and presence of technology in society as a whole.

London, 8th December 2016

Transpolitica 2016 – Schedule

Real world policy changes for a radically better future

Note: videos and slides from the various presentations are embedded below.

The schedule for the one-day conference “Transpolitica 2016” – which took place in Central London on Saturday 3rd December – is as follows:

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09.15: Doors open

We’ll be in the Clore Management Centre, room B01 (on the basement level), Birkbeck College, Torrington Square WC1E 7HX, London.

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The Clore Management Centre is on the opposite site of Torrington Square from the main Birkbeck College building. Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square) is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations. See this map.

To register in advance for this event, see this meetup page.

Note: Tickets for Transpolitica 2016 cost £18. (The entrance fee has been chosen so as to cover the costs of room hire, refreshments, and AV and IT expenditure. Early bird tickets, costing £15, and super early bird tickets, costing £12, are now all sold out.)

09.40: Introductory videos

09.45: Chair’s opening remarks

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

10.00-12:00: Regulations, health, and transformation

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

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

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

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

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

12.00: Break for lunch and networking (lunch is not supplied)

This Google Map lists selected restaurants and coffee shops that are within around 10 minutes walk from the conference venue – providing a wide choice of options for lunch.

13:00: Tea and coffee available, for post-lunch networking

Light refreshments will be available in the entrance foyer outside the meeting room.

13:30-15:10: Politics, tools, and transformation

Timothy Barnes, Founder and Senior Deity, The Rain Gods: “Bringing digital disruption to government”; Kathryn Corrick, COO Represent.me, “Updating democracy”; Dan Brown, Director of Meganexus Ltd: “ICT tools for computational government”

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

Jason Blackstock, Head of Department, UCL STEaPP, “Practical steps towards better public decision-making” (this speaker used no slides)

15:10: Break for tea/coffee networking

Light refreshments will be available in the entrance foyer outside the meeting room.

15.40-17.30: Society, data, and transformation

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

Tony Czarnecki, Managing Partner, Sustensis: “From long-term sustainable growth to the economy of abundance” – slides: as presented; as revised after the talk

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

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

17.30: Room empty

The event will be followed by a chance to continue the discussion in a nearby pub – The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ.

Online discussion

In the spirit of embracing technology to improve collaboration, Transpolitica 2016 will be trialling a tool (Glisser) for online communication during the event. This tool will be used to identify the questions that the audience, as a whole, prioritise as most deserving responses from speakers.

The tool can be accessed using either a cellular (3G/4G) connection or via wifi. For more details, see here.

Wifi details for attendees at this event are as follows:

Wireless network: BBK-Guest
Username: Londonfuturists2
Password: bbP7jW
(This access code is operational only from 09.00-17.30 on 3rd December.)

Registration and preview

To register for this event, see this meetup page.

And see here for a short video preview.

Flawed humanity, flawed politics

Evolution is a many-splendoured thing. Our long evolutionary history has prepared us well for many aspects of modern life. But in other aspects it bequeaths us problems. Nasty problems.

One example is our sweet tooth. Our ancestral instinct to eat plenty of fruit (or things that taste like fruit), in anticipation of subsequent times of lean, leads in the modern age to an epidemic of obesity. Oops.

Another example is our tendency to imagine intelligent agency where none exists – our so-called “hyperactive agency detector”. A rustle in the leaves; a cracked twig; a bolt of lightening – were these mere accidents, or the signs of a crafty predator? Better to be safe than sorry. But that hyperactive agency detector gave rise to numerous fantasies, worldwide, of ghosts and demons and supernatural deities. Double oops.

And yet another example is our tribalism – our innate apprehension of “the other”. We learned to fear alien groups of people who were noticeably different from our closer circle, and who might be expected, given a chance, to double-cross us or stab us in the back. Once upon a time, a rule of thumb “beware the outsider” was doubtless useful for survival. But in present times, that xenophobia can have all kinds of adverse consequences. Oops again.

What does this have to do with 21st century politics? Plenty!

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Four versions of tribalism

As I’ll list shortly, four of the most destructive tendencies in modern social life have their roots in our apprehension of “the other”. In each case, our social harmony is warped by ideologies that reinforce our innate tendency to fear those who seem different from ourselves. In each of the four cases, an ideology tells its adherents that there are deep reasons why the leopard cannot change its spots – why, that is, the outsiders are bound to keep on behaving in dangerous, destructive ways. So the ideology exacerbates the mistrust.

Look at these strange folk, the ideology says. Look at him here, and her there. These specific individuals are undeniably bad. And the rest are all the same. We – the decent, normal people – need protection against the entire tribe of others. We need to take back control – so these ideologies tell us, in various different ways.

These ideologies find willing listeners. Our subconscious minds are grateful for intellectual rationales that can be adopted, that shore up our instinctual urges, regardless of whether these urges remain good for us.

The first case is nationalism, or its variant, racism. Some English are duplicitous, therefore all English are duplicitous – that is (more or less) what I remember my barber telling me, on more than one occasion, when I had my hair cut as a teenager in Aberdeenshire in the mid 1970s. Other nationalists of a different stripe might say, in retort: some Scots are mean, therefore all Scots are mean. Some African Americans are lazy and disrespectful, therefore all African Americans are lazy and disrespectful. Some Moslems are fanatics, therefore all Moslems are fanatics. Some Poles are welfare scroungers, therefore all Poles are welfare scroungers. And so on.

Stated in such bald terms, the ideology is evidently puerile. But it is typically dressed up with finer trimmings. The reason why the other is likely to behave badly, we are told, is because they are victims of their culture, and (in some cases) victims of their religion. The ideology asserts – correctly, in my view – that some cultures are inferior to others, and that poor cultures can be kept in place by tendencies within religious teachings. For example, when a holy book emphasises that women are deeply different from men, we should not be surprised if people enmeshed in the resulting culture give scant attention to female equality. And if that holy book elevates faith as a virtue high above honest doubt, it’s no wonder that the members of that culture are inclined towards fanaticism.

The key question is: how easy is it for people to step aside from the culture in which they were previously enmeshed? Ideologies of nationalism tend to be sceptical on that count. In that view, culture is deterministic, and diminishes the capacity of “the other” to change. Forget any hopes of multi-cultural harmony. Instead, build walls.

The second case is anti-capitalism. That’s a bit more sophisticated than nationalism, but not by much. This line of thinking goes as follows: some business owners are ruthless profit-seekers, therefore all business owners are ruthless profit-seekers. Anyone who claims to be a “conscious capitalist” or a “moral capitalist” is deluding themselves. Their prevailing culture – the system of shareholder contracts and imperatives to maximise profits – ensures that they cannot really change. Therefore the “decent, normal people” – the working class – need to seize power, seize the means of production, and (if need be) string up the recalcitrant capitalist class from the lampposts.

Yet again, it’s an ideology that can find ready adherents. Developed under the label Marxist-Leninism, it’s an ideology that has caused horrible upheavals around the world.

The third case is the widespread rigid displeasure at EU bureaucracy.  Here’s the thinking: some EU bureaucrats are faceless self-serving empire-builders, therefore all EU bureaucrats are faceless self-serving empire-builders. As before, the argument runs from the specific to the general. A business leader finds his growth plans thwarted by ill-conceived regulations handed down imperiously from Brussels, therefore we have to take back control of all regulations handed down from Brussels. An innovative medical intervention is stymied by slow-moving EU healthcare review processes, therefore we have to take back control of all review processes from the EU. Perhaps we should even string up the leaders of that bureaucracy from the lampposts.

The key question in this case is: what stands in the way of intelligent reform of the EU bureaucracy? One answer is that the EU bureaucracy is part of a gigantic self-perpetuating system which is incapable of reform – much the same as Marxists claim that capitalism is incapable of meaningful reform. People with bad personal experiences of EU bureaucrats are, not surprisingly, sympathetic to that ideology.

What makes that line of thinking more likely to be accepted, alas, is the dearth of adequate positive communications about:

  • The rich benefits achieved from EU membership (despite a steady stream of mistakes being made)
  • The history of positive evolution of EU governance (despite the delays in some of these steps being taken).

Too many people have gained, in the short term, by spreading “bad news” stories (often wildly exaggerated) about EU governance. These stories have been good fun – ha ha ha – until they weren’t. Oops.

That takes me to the fourth case: rigid displeasure of government. It’s worth some extra attention.

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The case for governments

What is the point of governments?  Governments provide social coordination of a type that fails to arise by other means of human interaction, such as free markets.

Markets can accomplish a great deal, but they’re far from all-powerful. Governments ensure that suitable investment takes place of the sort that would not happen, if it was left to each individual to decide by themselves. Governments build up key infrastructure where there is no short-term economic case for individual companies to invest to create it.

Governments defend the weak from the powerful. They defend those who lack the knowledge to realise that vendors may be on the point of selling them a lemon and then beating a hasty retreat. They take actions to ensure that social free-riders don’t prosper, and that monopolists aren’t able to take disproportionate advantage of their market dominance.

Governments prevent all the value in a market from being extracted by forceful, well-connected minority interests, in ways that would leave the rest of society impoverished. They resist the power of “robber barons” who would impose numerous tolls and charges, stifling freer exchange of ideas, resources, and people. Therefore governments provide the context in which free markets can prosper (but which those free markets, by themselves, could not deliver).

What I’ve just described is a view of governments which is defended by the most frightening book I’ve read this year. The book is “American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper”. The authors are the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson.

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In describing this book as “frightening”, I don’t mean that the book is bad. Far from it. The authors’ characterisation of the positive role of government is, to my mind, spot on correct. It’s backed up by lots of instructive episodes from American history, going all the way back to the revolutionary founders.

But what’s frightening is another set of information clearly set out in the book:

  • The growing public hostility, especially in America (but shared elsewhere, to an extent) towards the idea that government should be playing any significant role in the well-being of society
  • The growing identification of government with self-serving empire-building bureaucracy
  • The widespread lack of understanding of the remarkable positive history of public action by governments that promoted overall social well-being (that is the “amnesia” of the title of the book)
  • The decades-long growing tendency of many in America – particularly from the Republicans – to denigrate and belittle the role of government, for their own narrow interests
  • The decades-long growing tendency of many others in America to keep quiet, in the face of Republican tirades against government, rather than speaking up to defend it.

The risk ahead

I listened to the concluding chapters of American Amnesia during the immediate aftermath of the referendum in the UK on the merits of remaining within the EU. The parallels were chilling:

  • In the EU, the positive role of EU governance has been widely attacked, over many decades, and only weakly defended. This encouraged a widespread popular hostility towards all aspects of EU governance
  • In the US, the positive role of US governance has been widely attacked, over many decades, and only weakly defended. This encouraged a widespread popular hostility towards all aspects of US governance. The commendable ambitions of the Obama government therefore ran into all sorts of bitter opposition.

The parallels might run one step further. To me, and many others, it was almost unthinkable that the referendum in the UK would come down in favour of leaving the EU. Likewise, it’s unthinkable to many in the US that Donald Trump will receive a popular mandate in the forthcoming November elections.

But all bets are off if the electorate:

  1. Feel sufficiently alienated
  2. Imbibe a powerful sense of grievance towards “the others” who are perceived to run government
  3. Lack a positive understanding of the actual role of big government.

Dealing with the flaws

Given the three risk factors I’ve just listed, various counter-measures ought to be clear:

  1. Action is required towards the concrete factors that generate a sense of alienation. Rather than the fruits of economic success being channelled to a small fraction of society, with growing inequalities, we need powerful steps for greater inclusion and wider participation.
  2. Language that encourages grievance must be rooted out. Whenever pundits present distorted stories about “the other”, these stories should be strongly challenged.
  3. Education is long overdue about the positive role of big government – as a kind of “visible hand” that complements the famous “invisible hand” of the free market.

On the third point, I particularly like the formulation of Hacker and Pierson that the mixed economy was the most important social innovation of the 20th century:

The mixed economy spread a previously unimaginable level of broad prosperity. It enabled steep increases in education, health, longevity, and economic security.

That’s an insight with a lot of mileage.

However, none of the above three tasks is easy. They’re made harder by the deep-rooted tendencies inside the human spirit to tribalism – ugly tendencies that keep coming to the surface in contemporary debates over politics.

In turn, we’re often maintained in our tribal thinking by yet another legacy hangover from our evolutionary heritage. That’s the heritage of a human propensity for self-deception.

The poison of self-deception

Time and again, as I’ve read what friends of mine have written online in recent months, I’ve gently sighed to myself: these people are surely deceiving themselves. (And no doubt I am similarly guilty on many occasions!)

Indeed, as the giant of evolutionary theory Robert Trivers explains in his genre-defining 2011 book “Deceipt and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others”,

We deceive ourselves the better to deceive others, and thereby reap the advantages.

Our subconscious minds often work hard to prevent our conscious minds seeing the whole picture and thereby disturbing our equanimity:

However much we champion freedom of thought, we actually spend much of our time censoring input. We seek out publications that mirror or support our prior views and largely avoid those that don’t.

Robert Trivers Deceipt

Trivers also provides this telling observation:

The great sage Thales once put the general matter succinctly. “Oh master,” he was asked, “what is the most difficult thing to do?” “To know thyself”, he replied. “And the easiest?” “To give advice to others.”

Towards a better intelligence

As a transhumanist, I look forward to a time in the hopefully not-too-distant a future when we’ll be smarter, not only rationally, but also emotionally.

But that I mean that our conscious minds will have a clearer understanding of the factors leading us to espouse various beliefs and ideologies. I’m sure we’ll all have some rude shocks in the process (me included).

With that clearer understanding, we’ll have a chance to resolve our political debates in a more rational way – a way that avoids unnecessary tribalism and alienation. Better humanity can provide the gateway to better politics.

Whence comes this better emotional intelligence? That’s perhaps the biggest question of all. Smart drugs may contribute. So might improved meditation techniques, or digital nootropics (such as helmets that modulate the brain via electrical stimulation). Enhanced communities of emotional support are likely to play a key role too.

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Article by David W. Wood, Executive Director, Transpolita

The graphics images are from Pixabay (click to see the individual sources.)

Anarchy beyond socialism and capitalism

By Waldemar Ingdahl, Director and Founder of the Swedish policy think tank Eudoxa

Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy that opposes authorities in the conduct of human relations, rejecting the state while advocating non-hierarchical organizations and voluntary associations. This essay draws attention to a variant of anarchism – market anarchism – which has been little studied, but whose relevance may increase due to new technology.

There are many strains within current anarchist thought. Anarchist communism advocates the abolition of the state, capitalism, wages and private property, and favours collective ownership of private resources. It calls for direct democracy, and a network of voluntary associations and workers’ councils guided by the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. Anarcho-syndicalism is a practice of left-wing anarchism through revolutionary unionism in capitalist society. Anarcho-capitalism advocates the elimination of the state in favour of individual sovereignty, private property, and open markets. Its ideal society sees law enforcement, and courts operated by privately funded competitors rather than by a centralist state.

The various modern currents of anarchism have often been at odds among each other and have rarely been particularly successful at establishing a particular real, functioning anarchist order.

Mature industrialism, which emerged early in the 20th century, was a paradoxical and very unstable combination of market and command economy. The market economy and the forces of competition created the dynamic framework that led the development to mature. Large factories were veritable command economies in miniature. Organizational principles were strictly hierarchical and clearly inspired by military organizations. The standardization of products and Taylorism as management ideals became the central feature of the development that led to the definitive production machine, the famous car factory of industrialist Henry Ford. The age was characterized by high transaction costs, difficulties of disseminating information and the centralization of clearly definable knowledge.

Left-wing anarchism fared badly in comparison with social democratic unions, which were able to combine the strength of labour monopsony (a market dominated by one seller) with political power over the state. Anarcho-capitalism fared badly in the face of legal complexity of government bureaucracy, while corporations thrived in collusion and their regulatory capture of government institutions.

Alongside these currents of anarchism there has long been a smaller line of thought: individualist anarchism, which can also be called “market anarchism”.

Market-anarchy

Market anarchism is a belief centred on mutual exchange, not economic privilege, advocating freed markets, not capitalism. Social justice is mainly seen as eliminating the governmental privileges that rigs the market in favour of capitalists while retaining a focus on building voluntary institutions such as cooperatives.

Market anarchism pronounces itself a radical liberation while empowering people to eliminate structural poverty, and redistribute economic and social power. It differs from left-wing anarchism by its embrace of markets, while setting itself apart from the anarcho-capitalist view of freedom as simply being present day corporations and capitalist structures, minus the state’s taxes and regulations. The powerful market position of current corporate entities is quite often highly dependent on the subsidies provided and control delegated by the state. Market anarchists often criticize the fact that corporations are able to block creativity and innovation by the privilege inherent in patent and copyright laws. In their view, markets are mechanism for cooperative collaboration, entrepreneurship, and often economic self-sufficiency.

Private property is often seen to be created by government action to limit access from the customary owners of a resource to favour the privileged classes. Similarly market anarchism sees the 20th century consumtariat losing power over its own consumption through debt and lack of control over technology.

Modern technology is enclosed and expert-driven. It is user friendly, but its “black box design” is not open to adaptation or changes. The maker movement shows a different way. It provides an alternative as a globally scattered community of Do-It-Yourself enthusiasts, hackers, researchers, designers and contractors, making everything from embroidery to robotics, working through generic designs, and open code.

Market anarchism might become an ideology more apt for the 21st century. The internet and many open ended technologies have provided the world with relatively many non-rivalrous goods. Rather than a “tragedy of the commons”, where individuals acting independently and rationally according to self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource, a “comedy of the commons” might be possible. The value of the internet increases for the individual user as the volume of available information and connections increases. Additional users make the internet more valuable to all, a development helped by open source software.

Today it is possible to share, borrow or rent a wide range of services and goods, from work, residences, vehicles, personal assistants, kitchen space, cooking and finance, clothing and tools. Everything is available in the new sharing economy.

The problem is finding someone to share with, at the right place, at the right time. The internet, social media and our constant state of connection has changed this. Mobile apps and websites are easy to scale using cloud services. The apps help users find each other, negotiate, make a transaction with or without money involved and then rate each other for everyone else in the social media to see. It is possible to find someone to share in a much larger area, and it’s easy to bill online or to regulate a gift economy. Consumers own and possess the goods and services exchanged. In combination with the adoption of 3D-printing technology, designs could be downloaded and produced regardless of intellectual property. Economies of scale and standardization are becoming less important than flexibility and adaptability.

The 3D-printer technology’s connection to the web means that political debate on copyright and patents will intensify. Designs could be downloaded and produced regardless of intellectual property. After all, the way computer technology distributes content is by copying it, exactly what copyright legislation defines as an infringement. As copyright is enforced by a government in favour of corporations, market anarchism could produce new forms of transactions regarding to ideas.

Open data and open-source collaboration are behind much of the innovative programming that powers the internet, operating systems, and software. The open code is developed organically through trial and error contributions to software. Guided by the open source community’s standards, rules, proceedings for decision-making, forms of remuneration and sanction; modern programming might be considered one of the foremost examples of real functioning market anarchy in existence.

Direct democratic decision-making is hampered by the complexity of modern deliberative processes. Information Technology can alleviate this by offering clarity to decision processes and exactly quantifying prices and market transactions for goods and services. This includes a much more deliberative use of computer systems and internet of things environments. Transparency is the way of clarifying risks and opportunities in decision making, especially for prioritizing existential risks. Services previously provided by a government might be more efficiently produced on-demand by being pre-programmed into software or into open-source platform for mutual exchanges.

Market anarchism sees a connection between economic outcomes and the material prospects for sustaining a free society, either through a ruling class treading down on those who are economically and socially weak or by populists buying their loyalty.

A decentralized medium of exchange using cryptography to secure the transactions and to control the creation of new units is certainly one of the more interesting developments from a market anarchist point of view.

Inequalities of wealth and poverty can be addressed through mutual aid societies and voluntary charities. The problem of free riders could be alleviated by automatic arbitration systems and through building in a mechanism for providing a basic income in cryptocurrency, as a payment back to the community for using the public distributed ledger: the block chain.

Market anarchism has a voluntarist approach in spreading the adoption of its views, which highlights its need for producing viable examples of its implementation. Many users of cryptocurrencies, 3D-printers, or open-source code might never think of their use as particularly political. Its voluntarism might be market anarchism’s greatest strength, while at the same time prove to be its greatest weakness, leaving its networks open for outside manipulation.

Technology has no inherent political order, rather it facilitates or debilitates certain features in society upon which political ideas may be dependent. An appropriate description might be “negative technological determinism”, what does a technological development invalidate?

Anarchist communism and anarcho-syndicalism might run into problems coming to terms with the changed nature of work and economic activity. Anarcho-capitalism might have difficulties explaining the increasing dependence of corporations on government in order to meet non-monetary competition from voluntary associations in the sharing economy and open-source innovation.

Market anarchism is at present a minute ideological current even in contemporary anarchism, but its thoughts and concept of human interaction are not invalidated by current developments to the same degree. In fact it might prove to be a way of thought well in tune to a decentralized, redistributed society.

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 5 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.

Accelerating Politics

By Sally Morem, essayist and singularitarian

AcceleratingThe approach to Abundance: insights from history

We begin this meditation on technology and politics with a question: what could such different processes have in common?  Both are ways by which we humans attempt to get rid of intolerable situations.  Our non-human ancestors began the process by learning to build mental models of their world.  They were just starting to discover what was and to distinguish that from what could be.  As they became human, they began distinguishing their dissatisfaction with what was from their hope for improvement through conscious consideration of past experience.

Imagine a very early ancestor stumbling upon a pile of shards, picking one up, cutting his fingers, and realizing that it was sharp enough to cut other things.  Imagine him cutting roots or meat with it.  Imagine his happiness at finding out how effective it was.  Even though he hadn’t fashioned it, it became a tool.  Technology is born.  Imagine him continuing on, deliberately fracturing rocks in order to produce a sharp one.  Accelerating technology is born.

Technology is exactly that: an environmental management system.  It consists of any and all tools and processes we devise and use by which we eliminate any intolerable aspect of our physical surroundings and reshape other aspects closer to our desires.  The excellence of each such system is measured by the order within it that fits that system’s given purpose.  These systems enable us to protect our bodies from inclement weather, warm ourselves, feed and hydrate ourselves, transport ourselves and our belongings, send messages to others, record vital information for future use, and protect ourselves from dangerous beasts, including other humans.

Which leads us directly to politics.  Those intolerable situations it deals with are interminable, unpredictable, and widespread threats and acts of violence.  Politics seeks to end or ameliorate these through enforcement of societal mandates and bans.  Politics involves the establishment and maintenance of these social norms.  Each society’s political process is concerned with the asking and answering of some very basic societal questions.  Who is a member of our group?  Who is not?  What acts must be mandated or banned?  What acts must not be?  Who must decide things for the group?  Who must not be allowed such power?  By what means must the decision-makers decide?  What are the permissible means by which their decisions will be enforced?

Imagine a society of our somewhat more recent ancestors.  They have become masters of the art of abstraction through language.  They are using some very emotional words while arguing over someone’s undesirable conduct and deciding on the spur of the moment what to do about it.  Later, they are hashing out proposals on how to deal with the mysterious and dangerous ways of the tribe living across the river.  Politics is born.

Politics is exactly that: a human conflict management system.  It consists of every concept, philosophy, institution, and process we devise and use in order to eliminate all undesirable social situations that crop up in a group of sensitive, intelligent beings that live in close proximity to one another and to reinforce all desirable behaviors in that group.

Technology and politics are two very different things, and yet they are closely connected.  Technology permits; politics commands.  New tools permit the creation of new types of societies with new political forms.  For instance, better forms of transportation permit people to congregate and to trade further from home.  Societies grow in numbers and in the territories they command.  New technologies, such as new forms of communications, permit them to engage in political decision-making processes inconceivable to their ancestors.  They disperse knowledge, permitting a wider range of people to know about more about more things, especially political issues.  They learn what other people in their society are saying about those issues and in turn are able to express their own feelings, often directly to those people.

If technology permits, why does it seem to invariably trigger the creation of new technologies?  If technology doesn’t command, couldn’t people turn down the open invitation to innovate?  They could and they have done so from time to time.  But usually, they don’t.  Why?  Every time a new technology is invented and implemented in any given society, it has changed that particular society if only by the tiniest bit.  Each change makes it that much more likely that further change will occur down the line.  Changes trigger cascades of changes over time.  The society adapts—especially its political system.  Secondary and tertiary changes ensure that the society will be much better off retaining the by now well-established technology rather than giving it up.  A cultural ratchet effect forms.  The system itself makes backsliding difficult.

A cultural ratchet makes sense.  But why faster?  Why accelerating technology?  People in each age of technology must deal with what they have—which they then begin changing.  The next generation will receive a slightly different toolkit from their parents than what their parents began with.  It will incorporate more successful applications of the old technology along with all gains made by all preceding generations.  In short, the children will never have to reinventing the wheel their great-grandparents had so painstakingly first crafted.  The most inventive of those children will work on new technology.

There is also an aspect of cultural evolution going on here.  Inventors tend to apply greater resources and efforts to improving the most effective existing technologies.  By so doing, they tend to improve the best of the best over the generations and weed out the rest.  A positive feedback loop of growing mastery results.  Inventors don’t skip around in design space.  They stick to their knitting.  But as they innovate, their toolkits diversify.  One older tool becomes the prototype for five different tools…and each of those may generate five more, and so on.

Inventors also learn how to make tools that make other tools in a more efficient and precise ways.  Endless chains of tools making tools making tools erupt, leading towards tools undreamed of by wheel-making great-grandparents.  By tightening up their tool-making procedures and making more effective tool-making tools, each technological advance takes a little less time than the previous advance.  Acceleration always begins very slowly, but even in the earliest days of human tool-making, it was already underway.

The early evolution of technology and political systems

Long before the emergence of civilization, even before the emergence of agricultural villages, people were already putting their new toolkits to good use.  Sometime late in the Neolithic Era, hunter-gatherer groups began coalescing, especially during the fecund summer months.  They would congregated by the hundreds for fishing on the banks of teeming rivers.  They would gather berries and nuts by the bushel basket and engage in the Big Hunt with carefully crafted slings and spears.  With that many people living so close together, even only for a few months, the traditional means of handling conflicts by elders or headmen were swamped by the rising tide of vital societal information.

Societies were growing more complex, more capable, more diverse, more conflict-ridden.  And their political systems grew more elaborate in response.  As a group grows arithmetically the potential numbers of paired relationships between members will rise exponentially, which of course also includes the potential number of conflicts.  Some sociologists believe that as a result of pure mathematical logic that the maximum number of people in the simplest form of human society—the hunter-gatherer band—is roughly 50.  Any more people and the potential for conflict simply explodes.

Every single societal enlargement of that basic group of 50 has been the result of accelerating technology interacting with accelerating politics.  We can simplify the historical analysis by beginning with that group.  Consider the novel decision-making and conflict-resolution procedures, the continual fissioning of work into more specialties and sub-specialties, and the growing complexity of society into steepening hierarchical structures as the number of individuals in our hypothetical group increases step-wise by a factor of ten:

A hunter-gatherer group of 50
A village of 500
A town of 5,000

Technological and political acceleration began feeding off of each other.  New tools and weapons permitted populations to boom.  Arguments over hunting lands occurred repeatedly.  Herding societies emerged.  People traveled more, traded more.  People found their once-distant societies coming into contact and conflict.  And then as the first farmers began taking land into cultivation, dustups between “the farmer and the cowman” broke out, ages before Rodgers and Hammerstein depicted them humorously in “Oklahoma.”

No one person ever actually noticed these changes in his lifetime.  Or in ten lifetimes.  Nevertheless, these technological changes had profound effects on ancient practices and beliefs.  In the long ages before civilization and writing, people, no doubt, responded badly to the stresses quite often.  Occasionally they responded brilliantly to the dire need for managing accelerating information loads generated by growing populations.  The intricate drawings and paintings in the caves at Lascaux and Chauvet may well have been the result of numerous such attempts over several thousand years.

And then consider what happens much later as the following came to be:

A city of 50,000
A kingdom of 500,000
An empire of 5,000,000
A nation of 50,000,000
A trading bloc of 500,000,000
A world economy of 5,000,000,000.

No political authority or structure can remain the same as such numbers and the inevitably intricate coalitions and conflicts grow.  Political leadership has changed historically from the lead hunter, the elder, the village headman, the petty king, the citizen of the polis, the senator or assemblyman, the proconsul, the high king, the emperor, the governor. the prime minister, the president  These officials have served as decision makers in governments as varied as any you’ve read about in political philosophy—hunter-gatherer bands, agricultural villages, city-states, princedoms and kingdoms, democracies, republics, dictatorships, tyrannies, and empires of innumerable shape and dimension.

There is one very pointed fact that any political scientist must face when studying societies.  In the larger societies, no individual will ever know more than a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of his fellow citizens.  The citizen can count on the fact that he will never have a one-on-one relationship with any but the comparatively very few relatives, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances he actually does meet in his lifetime.  The implications of this stark fact are manifest in the massive, impersonal, bureaucratic, hierarchical systems we have erected ever since the numbers of people and their complex interactions, and vital maintenance systems warranted these kinds of structures.

Throughout history, during boom and bust, even during collapse, technological development continued to accelerate.  For instance, the water wheel was invented and spread rapidly throughout Europe after the Roman Empire crumbled into petty kingdoms during what was mistakenly called the Dark Age.  The first factories on river banks demonstrated that water power could effectively replace human and animal power to drive machinery, driving down costs as well.  This new technology was so manifestly useful that even monks put it to work in their monasteries.  Upon such inventions and their colossal wealth-producing power, nobles and kings built the modern European nation-state.

The S-curve and disruptive change

Picture the classic S-curve graph which depicts a trend line for technology over time.  The vertical axis stands for measured excellence in a society’s aggregate technology.  Measurements take place in four dimensions:  computation, precision, miniaturization, and replication or in any appropriate combination of these dimensions.  The horizontal axis stands for time.  We follow the S-curve from the distant past on the left where it is apparently not rising at all to roughly present-day technology in which the line has taken a decidedly upward turn to the near-term future on the right where it turns more and more sharply upward to an imagined future at which it achieves virtual verticality.  At some point, it presumably will begin slowing down and the line will become more gently horizontal, but we see no signs of that happening in the near-term future.

What can such a graphic abstraction possibly mean?  The S-curve is a distillation of an enormous number of events in the history of technological development and an informed guess on its future based on those past trends.  The S-curve is an assertion about the nature of technology and its development.  It states that development is not arithmetical and cannot be arithmetical.  It states that any real development must be exponential.

When did people first start noticing such changes within their lifetimes?  A good educated guess would place this in the age of revolution during the 18th century.  A real political revolution, not a mere coup d’etat, is always an emergent response to a gut sense of the presence of deep, ongoing change.  It is never planned.  It is always a surprise.  Novel means of production and the novel nature of the goods being produced were beginning to have a pronounced political effect on the West.

We may trace these revolutionary stirrings back to Gutenberg’s printing press three centuries earlier.  As a result of that invention, writing was no longer the preserve of the very few learned scribes, theologians, or philosophers.  Neither was reading.  Religious laypeople discovered that it was important to own and to be able to read a Bible.  They never felt that need before because they couldn’t afford such a precious thing as a book.  Gentleman scientists discovered that they needn’t write dozens of letters on their discoveries to their colleagues; they merely had to write one article to any of a number of newly founded scientific journals.  That kind of change in the mastery of information dissemination transferred readily to ongoing political discourse.  The kinds of philosophical and political energies these growing capabilities unleashed in Europe and later in America shaped a new era, one which had been given a name by historians: The Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment meant exhilaration.  The newly felt sense of possibilities.  The revolution of rising expectations.  The Faustian sense that wholly new wealth could be created out of virtually nothing by newfangled machinery.  The Enlightenment meant suffocation.  The sense of feeling constricted by formerly venerated institutions, traditions, rulers, and laws.  These are the political pressures that grew and grew in direct response to technological change until they exploded.  Two such explosions were also given names: the American and French Revolutions.

What kind of political system was fit for people living in changing times?  Certainly not a top-down, autocratic system in which only the favored few heirs to power got to decide.  Perhaps some sort of representative government as in Parliament or American colonial assemblies.  Or perhaps a system fit for small societies in which every citizen represented only himself, as in the New England town meeting.  But monarchy?  Aristocracy?  These had to go.

And what sorts of lawmaking should be done in these new revolutionary assemblies?  Thinkers realized that in a free society, laws must achieve a kind of active or at least tacit consent by the great bulk of the public.  The consent of the governed.  If not, disobedience would become rife when laws are seen as nonsensical or against the interest of a large number of people.  The problem of legitimacy.  Political philosophers realized that the law is seen as legitimate only if and when most people believe in it and obey it.  Popular sovereignty.

None of these political insights were even remotely realizable in practice until transportation and communications systems of the new industrial age were able to link the fast growing numbers of citizens in intricate networks of political and economic exchange in the emerging mass democracies.  And as these societies continued to grow far more complex, as arts and sciences and manufacturing continued to specialize and sub-specialize, people grappled with the problem of managing greater and faster information loads.  Efforts to do so led to even more revolutionary technologies as we shall see.

Overcoming inertia caused by authoritarian governments

Why were democratic societies so much better at generating technological change and handling the stresses change generated?  Why are authoritarian societies handicapped in handling the same?  Let’s consider the case of an early 19th century inventor.  In a democracy, a farmer who wished to invent a better plow did not have to ask His Lordship’s permission to tinker.  He had no lord.  Nor did he have to ask permission of his commissar.  He had no commissar.  He merely had to invent.  He would scribble his ideas in the summer and tinker in the winter at his leisure.  If the plow worked as well as he hoped next spring, he likely shared the idea with neighbors and relatives.  Or perhaps he would start a small company and sell to his neighbors.

Acquaintances might think him impractical and dreamy, but if the invention worked, they pounced on it and improved their own crop yields thereby.  Multiply this example ten thousand-fold and you will discover the secret of democracy with respect to innovation.  It permits and even encourages private decision-making and deal-making at the grassroots level.  Powerful creative forces emerge as people build upon their technological and economic successes.  The skills these nascent inventors developed were readily transferred to the growing transportation, communications, and manufacturing sectors of Western economies.  Democracy drove innovation hard in the 19th century—straight to and through the second industrial age in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The enormous expansion of capabilities exhibited by industry in the realms of communications, transportation, manufacturing production capabilities, and marketing, didn’t occur because engineers simply installed conveyor belts and powered machinery in factories.  Engineers also developed the first information control systems decades before the development of electronic computers.  Cards and reports were printed and distributed by the planning department detailing exactly who and what went where and when and what each were to do in the factory at all times.  Each motion of a worker and a machine were fitted together to optimize assembly at the most efficient speed.

It worked.  In the most famous example of mass production, Henry Ford kept tweaking his assembly line over decades.  When his first factory began making Model Ts, they would come off the line every 12 ½ hours.  In 20 years, when Ford was ending production and shifting to the Model A, the tempo of production had increased so much that cars were coming off the line every half-minute.  Technological deflation permitted him to drop the price of cars so that his own workers could afford to buy them.

Critics blasted Ford and other producers for turning highly skilled human machinists into essentially unthinking, unskilled machines.  Any attentive engineer would have gotten the hint.  A machine is far better at acting like a machine, at making regular and precise motions, than any human could ever be.  Unthinking motions were ripe for the plucking by automation.  Sure enough, Ford automated as many of those jobs as he could.  Such factories can be seen as the world’s first replicators.  They were huge, noisy, extremely expensive, and yet extremely effective in producing millions of replicas of the original design of each product.

Systems of all kinds were becoming highly centralized during the height of industrialization.  Politics was no exception.  All utilities—electrical, gas, water, sewage, streets, railroads—were placed in the hands of utilities companies or local governments.  School districts were consolidated and rural children attended school with their fellow students in town.  Radio, and later television, permitted millions of people to watch the same sports, entertainment and news shows.  Millions of people joined major political parties and campaigned and voted for their favorites.  Party platforms were constructed out of planks based on broad ideological principles.  Government control over large sectors of the economy advanced rapidly in the form of regulations and outright ownership.  Government programs for the indigent and elderly were begun and grew to huge proportions.  Centralization of decision-making powers was seen as a fact of industrial life.  Intellectuals assumed the future would bring more of the same.

Decentralization enabled by miniaturization of electronics

As we’ve seen, industrial development triggered the formation of more precise information controls over production.  The development of the first electronic computers after World War II at first merely emphasized the centralizing character of such controls.  After all, these computers filled entire rooms and required highly trained specialists to program and maintain them.  But then computers became the leading edge of acceleration and as such their nature began to change.  As their components became miniaturized and more precise, they became much smaller.  And yet they could hold much larger memory and execute far more calculations per second than their predecessors.  And along with all those benefits of acceleration, technological deflation took hold and costs dropped drastically.  This permitted even small companies and colleges to own the computing power it took the economic power of governments and large corporations to afford a mere generation earlier.  Later, individuals were able to afford personal computer, laptops, and now tablets and smart phones.  The decentralizing power of the Internet, linking all of these devices in densely connected networks is now manifest.

Automation had long ceased to be merely a matter of replacing human workers with machines.  The work of the machines had already far surpassed that of the humans.  Our marvelously dexterous fingers and thumbs had been turned into comparatively immense ungainly things at the scale of miniaturization already being done by the 1960s.  Our most skilled machinists simply could not work to the kinds of tolerances that high precision technologies required.  Automation plays a much more important role in production today.  It has been years since any human has made a computer chip by hand.

If we take 1960 to be the year in which the very first information economies were beginning to emerge, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find something occurring that will feel very familiar to those historians knowledgeable about the age of revolution: That the massively centralized character of systems in what used to be industrial societies were beginning to break down.  Decentralization of telecommunications systems led the way.  Political systems were overloaded with problems needing consideration.  People were startled to discover that centralization was actually inefficient.  Political activists were aggravated by a sense of uncaring, unfeeling, unresponsive hugeness in systems they once admired.  They began forming their own organizations and create their own ideologies of liberation from what they deemed oppression.

But they were dreaming ahead of their time.  Western societies were still mostly industrial with all the limits and needs for hierarchies remaining intact.  But then computers started to get very inexpensive and people found they could do all sorts of interesting things with them.  The true age of decentralization of decision-making had begun in the computer clubs and garage workshops of the 1970s.

The 20th century was the first century in which parents expected their children to live a different kind of life than they had led.  Accelerating technology was reshaping societies each generation, and then each decade by the time the Information Age emerged by continually interweaving numerous technologies into newer and ever-changing supple systems of great productive power.  If accelerating technology rates are themselves accelerating, can politics be very far behind?

Replicators and the Abundance Society

What happens when knowledge becomes massively and easily distributed, enabling smaller and smaller groups of people to handle processes that used to take the effort of thousands or even millions?  And finally, what happens when technology gets so powerful and inexpensive that each one of us will command the potential creative and production power of today’s nation states?  This is what happens: the Abundance Society.

As excellence in computation, replication, miniaturization, and precision grows, automation will produce almost everything we use.  Those items not automated will be things we enjoy making ourselves.  When we reach this point, economics as we’ve known it will end.

The seeds of the Abundance Society already exist in 3-D printers, 3-D scanners, and CAD programs.  Right now, these technologies are digitizing consumer items, turning them into pure information—ready to print in any quantity desired.

We aren’t there yet.  We need to fill in a few more pieces in order to achieve true technological systems of Abundance.  1.  A means by which waste is turned into printer toner.  2.  A means by which molecules are sorted and moved precisely into place as directed by the CAD program.  3.  A means by which the printer and its control software are themselves printable.  At the point when anything becomes a resource, nanotechnology becomes the producer, and the entire system can be readily reproduced on demand, printing will evolve into true replicator technology.

The power of the Abundance technology will generate a revolution more all-encompassing than the agricultural and industrial revolutions combined.  It will offer every individual everywhere a universal toolkit with the ability to “grow” every gadget, article of clothing, book, article, recording, appliance, power generator, recycling system, electrical and plumbing system, car, house—anything imaginable, and much that is not imaginable today.  For example, Abundance will spread the life-giving ability of creating potable water anywhere, at any time.  The blessings of clean water will be especially appreciated in Third World nations, which will rapidly cease being Third World as Abundance spreads.

A truly advanced replicator will also offer the ability to “build” any food to exact specifications.  “Earl Grey.  Hot.”  A chef who enjoys cooking could use the replicator as a sous chef to produce chopped and grated ingredients on demand.  A person who does not enjoy cooking could order the replicator to produce an entire meal indistinguishable from the original composed of ingredients from nature.  No chef or chemist could tell the difference even after extensive testing.  For instance, you could order a grilled steak (with the sizzle) that had never seen the inside of a cow.  Highly advanced replicators could also monitor your health and produce medicines and cell repair machines to cure what ails you.

Decentralization of the massive industrial systems we now use for production and distribution of all goods and services will be the natural outgrowth of accelerating Abundance technology.  These systems will crumble as people abandon them.  Why would people go to any government or private corporation for health care, education, welfare, or any goods or services?  Why would anyone ever waste time and effort to ship anything anywhere when they could just post the CAD program online and alert specific recipients?

And, exactly why would people work for a living?  They would have no reason at all to do so, since every one of them would be the owners of their own means of production and livelihood.  They would simply do what interests them, not what other people want them to do.  As corporate and governmental hierarchies are automated out of existence, there would be very little left for humans to do as far as tedious, onerous work is concerned.  The very concept of a “job” would become obsolete.  The implications for politics are obvious and revolutionary.  Ask the question: Who will control the Abundance Society?  It answers itself: Everybody.

Once the first replicators came online, the technology would diffuse throughout the world rapidly.  In months?  Very likely.  Or perhaps it will be only a matter of weeks.  The originators would likely work for high-tech firms and would try to keep the design secret.  Political leaders will likely try to help them.  But as technology accelerates and the word gets out about what is possible, Open Source inventors would figure out quickly enough how to reinvent the technology.  And they would be even quicker to duplicate the work and distribute the CAD software online.  Intellectual property rights attorneys and courts will be running the Red Queen’s race against them with their Injunctions.  Inventors will find hundreds of ways around patent restrictions with CADs programmed to mutate and evolve.  One gadget could be tweaked into a hundred different gadgets in mere minutes.  Every attempt to stop or even slow down the Abundance cascade of inventions would merely spur the inventors on.

Any even moderately handy person will find it easy to build his own replicator at home using online CAD software and then reusing it to build more for friends, relatives, and neighbors.  As acceleration races on, as technological deflation shreds costs, duplication rates for production of replicators will rise around the world.  When the replicator costs the equivalent of the proverbial cup of sugar…or a piece of paper, any sense of felt deprivation arising out of the act of sharing anything, let alone valuable things like replicators and CAD programs, will ebb away.  The day may come when children will wonder at the meaning of such odd words as “selfish” and “unselfish.”  Distinctions that are vital to us will mean nothing to them.  Their sense of morality, of what acts should be banned or mandated, will shift as well.

Another word that may lose meaning is “pollution.”  Raw material for replicators can be found everywhere, literally dirt cheap.  Users will pick up material in junk piles and landfills (until there are none left) and even in their own backyards—dead leaves, sticks and twigs, and grass clippings will become handy sources of carbon for food and graphene products.  Why would anyone ever send material up in smokestacks, pour waste into rivers, or send the garbage and sewage out when every single molecule of such “waste” can be reused by replicators?

In a weird way, capitalism may well eliminate itself by generating the world’s very first truly Abundant society through the workings of its own massively creative networks of competition and cooperation.  When all scarcities end, all economic systems must end, including capitalism.  Not through bombs and barricades, but through neglect.  An apparent political paradox: We may achieve the ultimate socialist dream through capitalist methods evolving into a fundamentally libertarian society.

If I’m right about the growing pace of change in certain key technologies, we may enter the Abundance Society by the early 2020s. This will NOT be the technological Singularity. The Singularity will occur when the rate of change is so steep, technologies will be emerging that are unimaginable to us right now. The Abundance Society, on the other hand, is fully predictable and understandable, and we are much closer to it than most people realize.

The role of governance in the future

Politics at its very core addresses questions of direction for the society: What shall we do as a people?  Should certain things be subject to political control?  In the Abundance Society the field of political debate will contract as the real work of automation reshapes society.  Governments will have to start sharpening their enforcement skills and let whatever distribution skills they’ve garnered over the past century atrophy.

Think about every single function taken up by every single human government since the beginning of time.  The question is not which one of these functions should be or could be automated, but which ones must be and which ones should not be.  The debate over bans and mandates is the only real political debate remaining worth having in an age in which technology can change everything quickly—for better or for worse.

Discussion and implementation of specific effective means of enforcement against seriously dangerous uses of replicators, including the fabrication of lethal chemicals, biologicals, and nuclear material, as well as mandates on replicator controls in order to avoid runaway replication, must await the work of cutting-edge scientists and engineers in the field.  I will simply note that these means will almost certainly have to be automated because the threats will arise very quickly, as in minutes or even seconds.  And so, enforcement will not be able to include our traditional legal procedures.  No cops, no attorneys, no judges, nor juries.  No time.

When we achieve the Abundance Society, we will cease having to address questions of equity or equality.  As noted above, these questions simply won’t mean very much to people who live in Abundance.  Political freedoms will remain robust, but it’s doubtful that very many people will be very politically-minded.  Social and cultural freedoms will be widespread, but if any actions come close to the very sharply drawn danger line presented by the powerful technologies, those actions will be stopped by what will be likely be even more powerful policing and defense technologies.

This combination of libertarian laissez faire and extreme control will bewilder anyone familiar with present-day ideological debates.  But accelerating tech has been and is the largely unseen driver of political change and, even though technology does not command, the kinds of technologies we are developing today will make it reasonable for us to reshape our ideological beliefs and political actions accordingly.  The nation-state as we’ve known it will vanish.  The only aspect that will remain of today’s governments will be those carried out now by the police and armed forces: technologically upgraded and very specialized and highly focused enforcement systems.  Period.

The establishment of a global government is something that has been the goal of a number of political idealists over the ages.  The idea grew out of the dream of finally ending bloody conflict by rationalizing international affairs.  There is no possibility of the development of a world government along the lines of existing nation-states in the face of the changes accelerating tech is triggering.  There is only one possible form of world government or at least of informal governance.  A political power of some sort providing the world the automated enforcement system alluded to above.  Accelerating tech would overwhelm any other kind of governance.

Ethics embedded in technology

If the thought of placing all of your trust in one institution with the magnitude of power necessary to defend us from existential dangers is frightening (and it should be), let’s consider an alternative.  We could use the Holmesian rule of investigation as our guide in grappling with these issues as we attempt to find a better answer:  After dismissing the impossible, we must accept the improbable as being that answer.

Sherlock would suggest the logic of embedding simple, but highly moral rules within the technology itself to make sure it never oversteps moral bounds.  The technology would itself be the judge of the morality of its actions.  This would enable human ethical thought to be brought to bear extremely quickly under dangerous situations.

This would seem an exceedingly difficult challenge, but we can actually imagine (roughly) how it would work.  Simply embed a moral checklist at any point in which an action is about to be taken.  One decision-point at the end of a chain of decision-points.  Only one checklist, so the system wouldn’t have to spend precious seconds running through endless decision-points and checklists.  Each component of the enforcement system, each weapon, would thus include a basic artificial intelligence component.

To illustrate the possibilities, I’ll use some scenarios that could have taken place in the universe described by van Vogt in his science fiction novel, “The Weapons Shops of Isher.”  If you aimed the gun at a deer out of hunting season and pulled the trigger, it would not fire.  If you did so in hunting season it would fire.  If you aimed the weapon at a person, it would not fire, unless you were firing in self-defense or in defense of someone else.  This gun would have the kind of moral capability we are looking for within the enforcement technology I have in mind.  It would also have to have a deep awareness of its environment and people and their intentions.  It would be an AI.

We can’t even imagine being able to count on millions of smart people utilizing empowering future technology wisely and morally every single time.  Today, it would only take one guy with an Uzi to ruin everyone’s day.  Tomorrow, it would only take one guy (or one uncontrolled weapon) to end everyone’s life.  So, we must make sure that all Uzis are, in effect, manufactured in the Weapons Shops of Isher.

Abundance accelerating the acceleration of technology

The Abundance Society won’t end the accelerating development of technology; it will make it even easier to occur.  Millions of users of these powerful production facilities will be inventing more gadgets more often and posting CAD programs online.  They won’t be forced to await decisions of labor committees or marketing managers for permission.  In the words of the shoe company, they’ll just do it.  Nor will they have to be particularly handy.  They will simply imagine something they would like to use, tell their replicators to write the CAD, and print the prototype.  No machinists or carpenters needed.  Inventors will simply test their prototypes after printing.  As replicators improve and their owners grow more experienced working with them, the rate of invention itself will accelerate, adding to the overall rate of acceleration.

One device may branch out through design space, serving as the seed for thousands of different devices in a matter of weeks or even days, and a bit later in hours and even minutes.  Imagine larger and larger shockwave of change ripping through all areas of human life faster and faster, courtesy of the replicators and the Internet.

Clearly, the Abundance Society will not end history.  More and more important changes will be happening simultaneously, faster than ever before.  The amount of change and the pace of change will accelerate.  History will become more like a spaceship than a mule train.  As we move up the steepening curve of development, we will enter something we could call the Post-Abundance Society.  This society will not cease being Abundant; existence of Abundance will simply be taken as a given.  But, the superb control over matter and energy achieved by accelerating technology will enable us to reach past Abundance and allow us to transcend more and more historical limits on our decisions and actions.

People will find it necessary to invent brain and body augments to keep up.  Ancient biological rhythms of life will be disrupted.  What will happen when traditional human limits no longer apply or are not as restricting as they are now?  For instance, political decision-making is now limited to those cycles and to human stamina.  We can only take so many meetings and do so much reading before our time and our minds and our bodies are overwhelmed with floods of information and decisions waiting to be made.

Forms and structures of government are already morphing, flattening, fracturing under existing strains.  Think about what is to come as accelerating change strains politics past the breaking point.  Would a return small republics or direct democracies or even adhocracies be enough to handle things?  What about various systems of referenda?  What about Delphi polls, betting markets, minarchism, techno-anarchism, just plain anarchism, or rule by Artificial General Intelligences (AGIs)?

Perhaps people could enter an electronic legislative assembly and leave it as their desires for better and more nuanced security systems are met and their interests change?  Will that assembly exist as a mere pattern of activity, a standing wave of interaction on the Internet or in Virtual Reality, as the membership keep changing moment by moment?  Perhaps such a system could keep up the pace for a while.  But it will seem as soon as some innovative form of government is offered by political science as a palliative, it may already be rendered obsolete.  There may never be one best system of government ever again.

We can always guess as to what changes might be taking place in terms of societies and politics, even though we can’t know, not until we get there ourselves.  To handle such immense change, people may choose to augment their brains and bodies to computer speed.  Or they may choose to upload their minds into an immensely capable computer-based Virtual Reality, sometimes referred to as a noosphere, so that they may continue to experience existence at ever greater speeds.  They would become incomprehensibly intelligence from our standpoint.  They may choose to double their knowledge, experience, and capabilities at the same dizzying rate that technology is exploding in order to keep up.

Could transhuman technology eventually disrupt the cohesion of society?

Political philosophy has rested tacitly or overtly over the centuries on the recognition of a number of human limits.  What happens when those limits are surpassed by the emergence of transhuman bodies and minds?  Accelerating times will cause a problem with time itself.  People no longer have the time to adjust, to take meetings, to read, to make trade-offs, to settle moral/ethical quandaries.  Things simply keep changing faster and faster.  We humans need time to figure difficult problems out, and acceleration will not give us that time.  We’ll struggle to keep up.  We’ll get our brain augments for purely practical reasons: We’ll need to think a million times faster than we do now in order to deal with a reality that’s changing at least that fast.

Those aspects of traditional societies and politics that had survived the gauntlet of Abundance will likely get shredded by the extreme tempo of change of the Singularity.  A moral sense, a sense of being a member of a community of fellow humans, a sense of limits, a set of social skills, a sense of rights and of justice, a sum of our behaviors, our perceptions, our capabilities, our tendencies, our emotions, what we tend to love and tend to hate, and again, our sense of limits.  All of these will become vulnerable to extreme rates of change.

When we Upload, when we change our bodies into any shape on whim and then do so over and over again, when we master endless skills and combine them in endless ways for amusement and personal growth, when we have far more power than today’s nation-states at our fingertips, when we are able to swap memories with other humans and AGIs whenever we desire more experiences, when we can enter into group minds and leave them at will, what realm of existence could be left for politics, except perhaps for a strange form of virtual adhocracy, group minds through which individuals merge and detach as decisions are made?

And what of the possibilities offered by extreme life extension and youth extension?  Political systems today are structured to deal with ancient cycles of birth, childhood, adulthood, elderhood, and death.  If other drastic changes didn’t unhinge politics as we’ve known it, life extension surely would.

Those thinkers, such as Francis Fukuyama, mindful of the potential of radical societal change offered by accelerating technology, express a fundamental, quite reasonable fear: That we will soon cease sharing a common humanity, that inequalities far more fundamental and injurious than any we have ever experienced will become our fate as the human race fissions into a thousand drastically different races, or perhaps different species.  And would this fissioning continue as people differentiate themselves within those races and species, each generation splintering more and more?  As we upgrade our brains and Upload our minds, our capabilities could soon become so differentiated that we could never see each other as truly recognizably human.

How sociable and courteous would all these beings be with one another?  Would life become so different for these beings that they would no longer be able to communicate or even apprehend the existence of one another?  What would moral and immoral intentions and actions directed toward such various beings entail?  What would enforcement of norms entail?  What would norms entail?  Could such varied beings ever form one moral community?  Could they ever treat each other as equals, or even think of the other as an equal, at least in some limited way?  A modicum of trust in politics is vital to establishing any kind of effective decision-making system for the group—or for numerous interacting groups.  Here, trust must be virtually non-existent.  Think about how badly humans have treated the dreaded stranger, the other, over the ages.  Based on past performance, the prognosis does not look good.

The warnings are dire.  We face a post-human future in which dangerously chaotic forces make survival precarious.  In this potential future, the remnants of democracy are incinerated in the heat of extreme change.  Human freedom dies in the flames.  Those who fear this future recommended relinquishment of advanced technologies to prevent it.  A very harsh response.  But, never mind for the moment if relinquishment is desirable or not.  Is it even possible?

The infeasibility of technological relinquishment

Let’s say we set out to control the nanotechnology revolution and the biotechnical revolution and the computer revolution and the replicator revolution and so on.  Let’s say we will mandate the end of all advances in computation, replication, miniaturization, and precision.  What would we have to do?  In order to make enforcement of norms against advanced technology effective, political efforts would have to include arriving at a deep understanding of what exactly dangerous technologies are, achieving strict international agreements and conventions against said dangerous technologies, and establishing effective enforcement procedures to wipe out said dangerous technologies.  Is such understanding possible?  Are such agreements possible?  Are such procedures possible?  We lack substantial agreement on any sort of universal values system—individuals, groups, and nations are in sharp disagreement on so many such norms.  We have the additional difficulty of a lack of a recognized, valid set of international decision-makers.  We would also face one insurmountable obstacle, a true paradox: It would take advanced technology to enforce a ban on advanced technologies.

Who could accurately forecast which specific technological development would harm or help humanity and exactly what it would do under various circumstances?  What about future technologies any permitted technology would spawn, a cascade of generations upon generations of new technologies now unimaginable to the regulatory panel of experts?  What if anything would they have to say about these now non-existent technologies?  How could they possibly judge their worth and their danger?

Even if we somehow succeeded in settling these matters, the temptation to defect against relinquishment laws would be severe.  The immediate concrete benefits of doing so would be perceived by defectors to greatly outweigh any abstract future risks.  Human enhancement involves a very real temptation to defect because such enhancements hold out opportunities to better compete against other humans.  Furthermore, an early defector will cause a cascade of defectors.  The logic of arms races would prevail.

Temptations to defect hint at the chaotic nature of cooperation under these circumstances.  It’s like balancing a top.  It will spin nicely for a while, but one little bobble and the time for it to topple over will come very soon.  And then there’s the metaphor of the pile of sand at criticality.  One more sand particle dropped on it may well set off an avalanche.

Since everyone knowledgeable enough to develop advanced technology would have to, in effect, voluntarily cooperate with a regimen of relinquishment (it’s clear that physically enforced cooperation simply would never work), any individual or small group could effectively destroy the agreements by defecting.  There can be but one possible result of relinquishment—utter failure.

Smart brain augmentation facilitating cohesion

However, there may be a wholly different way of dealing with dangerous technology.  We must consider the implications of the fact that liberal democracy itself was made possible by these very trends we fear.  Democracy was invented by people inspired by the sociological changes accelerating technology was triggering.  Its development was fostered by further acceleration.  This is no surprise.  After all, the human drive to achieve more and more well-being for more and more people is what drove human inventiveness in the first place.

instead of regulation forestalling the fissioning of the human race, which as we’ve seen is doomed to failure, how about using the technology itself to prevent a total rupture of relationships between what may potentially turn out to be many human races?  Here is a startling reason for us to develop brain augment technology as soon as possible: It may foster within us very deep sense of mutual fellow-feeling.

The original idea behind this concept was to use brain augments to give us access to a massive growing amount of information with the computing power to handle it.  But in brain augments, information could also flow the opposite way.  Brain augments could be used to record the massive amount of information the human brain generates when it thinks, feels, remembers, imagines, anticipates, plans, accepts, rejects, and directs the body to do anything.  We could do this in order to preserve our sense of self for future Uploading to the Singularity’s noosphere.  We could conduct these recordings over any amount of time.  Years, perhaps.

Now, while we’re busy recording ourselves, we might also choose to pool copies of portions of our memories and other aspects of our active minds, creating numerous AIs that would retain mental models of what we could call the “baseline human.”  These would essentially be recordings of our ordinary, pre-Singularity selves.  We might either choose to leave them frozen, unchanged, or perhaps we would interact with them and they would change over time.  We might also exchange them, merge them into standard personalities, and copy them for one another.  If we do so, we would in effect create the mental template of the baseline human that all future humans would hold in common for ages to come.

And so, as our species fractures, every individual in every human species would retain copies of the baseline human and use them as translating devices to communicate with all other species of humans when desired.  Think of them as communications links or archival sources or decoding devices and all of the above and more.  If this bridging technology is developed, our future selves may be able to avert the disaster that Fukuyama has warned us against.  Even though our future selves may be as radically different as he fears or even more different than he or any of us could imagine, every one of our future selves would still retain the baseline human historical commonality.  As such, this commonality, link, translator, AI or whatever, would serve to keep all descendants of humans “together” in some sense hinted at by that vague word.  It would give us at least a small felt sense of kinship, of fellow-feeling, or perhaps even the tiniest touch of a sense of egalitarianism.  At the very least, it would smooth the rough edges that are sure to grow as we differentiate at accelerating speeds.  And it may enable us avert serious violence due to misunderstandings and keep the Singularity reasonably peaceful and secure.

The Singularity is upon us

What I have envisioned is the unexpected: a future in which accelerating technology successfully generates effective accelerating politics for accelerating societies, a future in which new, strange technologies, politics, and societies are being replaced more and more rapidly by newer, truly incomprehensible technologies, politics, and societies.

We have edged our way up close to the event horizon of the technological Singularity, to that point where we can no longer see beyond the onrush of acceleration.  As it turns out, life has been striving for that moment all along, unknowingly but continually, in unerring direction, long before the first humans existed.  Participation is the necessary work of all, not merely the work of one class or one race or one civilization, but every single human being now living or yet to be born.

An immense historical process is underway—an emergence of accelerating human capacity and capability, the creation of which is becoming even more unimaginable as acceleration continues to flood our awareness with novelties and breakthroughs—faster, faster, faster.

The Singularity is now upon us.  Things have gotten very strange.  So strange, so far beyond anything we have known that we can no longer distinguish any landmarks nor can we make any recommendations to those who enter here.  And so this meditation on technology and politics must come to an end.  Our proper response to acceleration at this point, for now, must be silence.

Sources

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Fukuyama, Francis, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

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Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 10 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.

Image source: Pixabay

An introduction to tomorrow’s politics

By David W. Wood, Executive Director, Transpolitica

The Transpolitica manifesto summarised

Today’s most pressing political problems

Transpolitica seeks to uncover and highlight what can be called “tomorrow’s solutions to today’s most pressing political problems”. What are these problems?

The polling agency YouGov conducts frequent surveys of political opinion. On the 4th of March 2015, they revealed the preferences indicated by a representative sample of 1701 voters from throughout the United Kingdom (PDF). Survey participants were asked to specify up to three issues, out of a range of 13 choices, in response to this question:

Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing the country at this time?

The top-ranked issues were as follows:

  • Immigration & asylum – selected by 50% of participants
  • The economy – selected by 46%
  • Health – 42%
  • Welfare benefits – 30%.

At the same time, the survey participants were also asked a different question (referring to the same set of 13 possible choices):

Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing you and your family?

For this question, the top-ranked issues were slightly different:

  • The economy – 43%
  • Health – 38%
  • Pensions – 29%
  • Tax – 21%.

YouGov also periodically ask voters for their feedback on the performance of the main party leaders in the United Kingdom parliament. The results are that these three leaders are all judged more as “doing badly” than as “doing well” (or as “undecided”). At time of writing, their most recent “doing badly” ratings were (PDF) 50%, 66%, and 70%.

Taking one step back from these results, I perceive a great deal of anxiety among potential voters. They’re worried about how they and their families will be able to afford healthcare and other necessities of life, especially as they or their loved ones experience old age. These worries are compounded:

  • As many new people are migrating into the country, potentially overwhelming local schools and local welfare services
  • As there are many pressures on the national health service
  • As politicians seem unable to make any real changes.

Looking further around the world, I see some common underlying patterns:

  • Electors are disturbed by the pace of social change and uncertainty about the future
  • Governments often seem to be a hindrance to positive change (not an enabler)
  • Politicians are caught up in their own systems – they cannot rise above inertia
  • Politics are subject to strong vested interests, including finance and corporations
  • Voting often ends up being tactical or ineffective (especially in “first past the post” systems)
  • Political parties fail to present any compelling big vision for the future (beyond talking about economic matters).

Technology as the solution

The solution offered by Transpolitica to the political problems being experienced around the world can be summarised in a single word: technology.

Society has already seen remarkable changes in the last 10-20 years as a result of rapid progress in fields such as electronics, computers, digitisation, and automation. In each case, the description “revolution” is appropriate.

But even these revolutions pale in significance to the changes that will, potentially, arise in the next 10-20 years from extraordinary developments in healthcare, brain sciences, atomically precise manufacturing, 3D printing, distributed production of renewable energy, artificial intelligence, and improved knowledge management. Indeed, the next 10-20 years look set to witness four profound convergences:

  • Between artificial intelligence and human intelligence – with next generation systems increasingly embodying so-called “deep learning”, “hybrid intelligence”, and even “artificial emotional intelligence”
  • Between machine and human – with smart technology evolving from “mobile” to “wearable” and then to “insideable”, and with the emergence of exoskeletons and other cyborg technology
  • Between software and biology – with programming moving from silicon (semiconductor) to carbon (DNA and beyond), with the expansion of synthetic biology, and with the application of genetic engineering
  • Between virtual and physical – with the prevalence of augmented reality vision systems, augmented reality education via new MOOCs (massive open online courses), cryptocurrencies that remove the need for centralised audit authorities, and lots more.

Each of these four grand convergences will be far-reaching in its own right, but the combination of all four happening in parallel injects additional large elements of uncertainty.

The changes ahead have been likened to a dozen different Gutenberg moments happening simultaneously. Here’s a report by Singularity Hub writer Jason Dorrier about the opening remarks at the Singularity University (SU) Summit held in Amsterdam in November 2014:

SU’s global ambassador and founding executive director, Salim Ismail, set the stage.

We’re at an inflection point, he said, where we are digitizing and augmenting the human experience with technology. That digitization is accelerating change. The question is: How can individuals and society, more generally, navigate it?

Five hundred years ago, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press freed information as never before. Ismail framed the current pace of technology as Gutenberg to the extreme, “We’re having about a dozen Gutenberg moments all at the same time.”

It’s true…currently, I’m listening to experts communicate new and novel ideas. I take notes on a laptop, connect to the internet, find images, load the article—and publish (for free). Ideas from the mouths of the few to the brains of the many in mere moments.

This flow of information is driving idea cross-pollination and innovation on a massive scale.

Listening to Ismail’s talk, I was reminded of a quote. Generally attributed to Elbert Hubbard, it goes like this, “The world is moving so fast these days that a man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.”

Politics as the complication

In principle, technological developments have the potential to generate abundance – plenty of material possessions, healthy longevity, uplifting mental life, and profound experiences, to dissolve the worries of electors around the world. Voters will no longer need to hustle and campaign for adequate provision of welfare services, such as pension, education, and healthcare.

However, there are many uncertainties that influence technology – both how it is developed, and how it is deployed. Technology does not determine its own outcome. Instead, the allocation of resources to technological development is strongly impacted by the operation of markets, incentives, subsidies, regulations, and public expectations. In turn, all of these factors are impacted by politics (either in commission or in omission).

Politics as the complication

For this reason, the statement

Technology can enable bigger positive changes in the next ten years than in any previous ten year period…

needs to be followed by an important proviso:

…providing these technologies receive sufficient funding, focus, and regulatory support – as provided by a positive political climate.

Transpolitica therefore wishes to engage with politicians of all parties to increase the likelihood of an attractive, equitable, sustainable, progressive future, enabled by a combination of new technology and new politics. The ideas raised in this book are designed:

  • To elevate the thinking of politicians and other leaders, away from being dominated by the raucous issues of the present, to addressing the larger possibilities of the near future
  • To draw attention to technological opportunities, map out attractive roads ahead, and address the obstacles which are preventing us from fulfilling a potential that far exceeds the present status quo.

Bold, regenerative projects

If the single-word summary of the Transpolitica manifesto is “technology”, the single-sentence summary spells out a more concrete request:

Transpolitica calls upon politicians of all parties to define and support bold, regenerative projects to take full advantage of accelerating technology.

Such projects have taken place before, with outstanding results. One important example is the 1960s Apollo “moonshot” program, launched with the following words in September 1962 by US President John F. Kennedy at a speech at Rice Stadium in Florida:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…

If I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun… and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out – then we must be bold.

Similar bold huge projects have taken place in wartime: consider the Manhattan project to develop the first atomic bomb, carried out under the threat that axis powers might reach that fearsome outcome first. Another example is the post-war “Marshall Plan” peacetime reconstructive project – a project that involved far-sighted economic innovation rather than technological innovation.  And let’s not forget the grand project in the United Kingdom to set up the Welfare State and the National Health Service.

These projects share the characteristic of being bold and visionary. They were able to galvanize huge collaborative endeavours, via providing a profound sense of manifest purpose and shared destiny.

In the present times, two EU regenerative projects are worth mentioning. Each has a budget of around one billion euros:

First, the “Human Brain Project” is described as follows:

Understanding the human brain is one of the greatest challenges facing 21st century science. If we can rise to the challenge, we can gain profound insights into what makes us human, develop new treatments for brain disease and build revolutionary new computing technologies. Today, for the first time, modern ICT [information and comms technology] has brought these goals within sight.

Second, consider the “Graphene Flagship”:

The Graphene Flagship’s overriding goal is to take graphene, related layered materials and hybrid systems from a state of raw potential to a point where they can revolutionize multiple industries… and put Europe at the heart of the process, with a manifold return on the investment as technological innovation, economic exploitation and societal benefits.

Each of these EU projects has the expectation of generating economic and social benefits, in addition to technological innovation. That characteristic is shared by the various proposed Transpolitica regenerative projects. One difference, however, is the matter of scale. The Transpolitica projects are conceived as involving larger resources, larger collective effort, and larger outputs.

The six Transpolitica regenerative projects

1. Clean tech -> sustainable growth -> material abundance for all

Enough sunlight strikes the earth each hour to power all of humanity’s needs for an entire year. An analysis published in Nature contends that wind energy could provide 20-100 times current global power demand. Earth also experiences a natural abundance of energy from wave and from geothermal. In turn, this rich abundance of multiple forms of renewable energy can be used to provide more than enough food and clean water for everyone’s needs. This regenerative project can take advantage of improvements in energy storage and transport, in desalination, in agriculture, in the creation of synthetic food, and (with some care) genetically modified organisms.

Even if human population levels rise significantly in the decades ahead, there’s no reason why anyone should suffer any shortage of material possessions. What’s more, we can have lifestyles that avoid causing any degradation in the environment. Developments in fields such as nanotechnology can improve our ability to usefully recycle the waste arising from our activities.

This is not a vision of reversing growth; nor one of zero growth. People don’t need to anticipate living more frugally than at present. On the contrary, this is a vision of positive sustainable growth, empowered by numerous improvements in green technology.

The difficulty, however, is that green technologies are progressing too slowly. Too many financial subsidies are diverted into energy resources that have highly polluting side effects. The transition to cleaner lifestyles is fitful and erratic. In contrast to that future vision of humanity living in positive harmony with the environment, present-day societies are pushing the planet close to devastating tipping points. Vested interests, driven by short-term financial concerns, are obstructing a rational allocation of research and development resources. That’s why politicians need to exert much greater green leadership:

  • Championing a wide-ranging investigation into which green technologies are the most promising
  • Where needed, orchestrating long-term, patient investment, and adjusting regulatory frameworks
  • Opposing any distortions that short-term interests exert on the R&D landscape.

Some readers may be nervous at this mention of a positive role for governments in assisting a technological revolution. They may believe that government intervention is inevitably misguided and counterproductive. I offer the counter-analysis of renowned Venezuelan scholar Carlota Perez, whose book “Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages” is, rightly, held in high regard. Perez describes recent history as featuring five major technical-economic cycles:

  1. From 1771: The First Industrial Revolution (machines, factories, and canals)
  2. From 1829: The Age of Steam, Coal, Iron, and Railways
  3. From 1875: The Age of Steel and Heavy Engineering (electrical, chemical, civil, naval)
  4. From 1908: The Age of the Automobile, Oil, Petrochemicals, and Mass Production
  5. From 1971: The Age of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

Perez argues that the technology of wave five in this list is already in the process of undoing many of the environmental problems introduced by wave four.

Nevertheless, despite her optimism that “a sustainable positive-sum future is possible”, Perez states clearly (PDF):

  • It will not happen automatically: the market cannot do it alone
  • The state must come back into the picture.

Her analysis proceeds:

  • Each technological revolution propagates in two different periods
  • The first half sets up the infrastructure and lets the markets pick the winners
  • The second half (“the Golden Age” of the wave) reaps the full economic and social potential
  • Each Golden Age has been facilitated by enabling regulation and policies for shaping and widening markets.

2. Rejuvenation biotech -> Longevity dividend -> healthy longevity for all

The second proposed regenerative project focuses, not on material abundance, but on an abundance of health, for as long as people wish to live.

Given adequate R&D resources, human longevity could be enormously extended, using technologies which are already broadly understood. Prolonging healthy lifespan would clearly benefit the very large number of citizens concerned, and it would also benefit society by preserving and deepening the experience and wisdom available to solve our various social problems.

In this way, Transpolitica supports the aspiration of people in all corners of the globe to indefinite healthy life extension. Rejuvenation therapies based on regenerative medicine can and should be developed and progressively made available to all citizens. The resulting “longevity dividend” will have large social and economic benefits, as well as personal ones.

The longevity dividend fits the maxim that “prevention is cheaper than cure”. Another homely saying captures a related perspective: “a stitch in time saves nine”. Once rejuvenation therapies are available, periodic application of these therapies will undo the accumulated damage of biological aging. As a result, the present very expensive healthcare costs that are frequently incurred in the last years of someone’s life will be deferred and, ultimately, avoided completely.

If readers are hearing for the first time about the concept of the longevity dividend, they may find it surprising. It’s a subject which I am exploring at some length in a forthcoming book, “Approaching rejuvenation: Is science on the point of radically extending human longevity?”  For now, a brief explanation will have to suffice.

The basic idea is that aging should be recognised as an underlying common cause and exacerbating agent of all sorts of disease. Addressing aging can, therefore, be expected to reduce both the occurrence and the severity of these diseases. The approach is described in an article “A Reimagined Research Strategy for Aging” from the website of the SENS Research Foundation:

Many things go wrong with aging bodies, but at the root of them all is the burden of decades of unrepaired damage to the cellular and molecular structures that make up the functional units of our tissues. As each essential microscopic structure fails, tissue function becomes progressively compromised – imperceptibly at first, but ending in the slide into the diseases and disabilities of aging.

SENS Research Foundation’s strategy to prevent and reverse age-related ill-health is to apply the principles of regenerative medicine to repair the damage of aging at the level where it occurs. We are developing a new kind of medicine: regenerative therapies that remove, repair, replace, or render harmless the cellular and molecular damage that has accumulated in our tissues with time. By reconstructing the structured order of the living machinery of our tissues, these rejuvenation biotechnologies will restore the normal functioning of the body’s cells and essential biomolecules, returning aging tissues to health and bringing back the body’s youthful vigour.

Potential damage-limitation and damage-reduction therapies range as follows:

  • Regenerative mechanisms which already operate in healthy humans (especially in young healthy humans), and which could be encouraged to continue operating beyond the point when they ordinarily lose their potency
  • Regenerative mechanisms which already operate in non-human animals, and which could be triggered, via ingenious processes, to operate in humans
  • Brand new biological mechanisms, created via methods such as synthetic biology and genetic engineering, which have no direct parallel within any existing animals (human or otherwise)
  • Brand new physical mechanisms at the macro-scale, for example involving mechanical replacement body parts
  • Brand new physical mechanisms at the nano-scale, such as nano-surgery
  • Combinations of the above.

Depending on the type of damage being addressed, different regenerative therapies will be needed. Transpolitica advocates that extensive experiments with more than one type of therapy should be carried out, to determine which approaches are the most effective in different circumstances.

A practical suggestion is that 20% of the public research funding that currently goes to specific diseases should be reassigned, instead, to researching solutions to aging. This “ending aging” angle is likely to provide promising lines of research and solutions to many diseases, such as senile dementia (including Alzheimer’s), cancer, heart disease, motor neurone disease, respiratory diseases, and stroke.

3. Improved brain science -> Super well-being for all

The third proposed regenerative project focuses on yet another type of abundance: mental well-being, including well-being in the emotional and spiritual dimensions.

Just as science is providing us with unprecedented understanding of energy and materials (the first regenerative project), and of bodily health and rejuvenation (the second), it is also providing us with unprecedented insight into the operation of mind and brain. To an extent never before imagined, we are gaining an awareness of the factors that influence our levels of happiness, engagement, creativity, autonomy, mindfulness, and consciousness.

Presently, many of us often struggle through periods of life in which, despite having lots of possessions, we’re only semi-conscious. But with more focus on the causes of mental well-being – causes that include physical, chemical, biological, physiological, psychological, and social factors, as well as intellectual development – technology will become better placed to allow everyone access to states of mental enlightenment which, previously, were hard even to imagine.

4. Automation -> New social contract -> Universal income

Emerging technologies – in particular automation – are likely to impose significant strains on the current economic model. It is far from clear how this will play out; it’s also unclear what the best strategies for response are. Society and its leaders need to consider and discuss these changes, and draw up plans to deal with different outcome scenarios.

Transpolitica anticipates that accelerating technological unemployment may cause growing social disruption and increased social inequality and alienation. People who trained hard for new career opportunities may discover that their employment prospects have been quickly overtaken by increasingly sophisticated robots, AIs, or other software – automation systems that have gained new skills at a rate faster than can be matched by human trainees.

A new social contract is needed, involving appropriate social, educational, and economic support for those who are left with no viable option of ‘earning a living’ due to this unprecedented technological change.

A form of negative income tax (as proposed by Milton Friedman) or a basic income guarantee could provide the basis for this new social contract. It may take a moonshot-scale program to fully design and implement these changes in our social welfare systems. However, political parties around the world have developed promising models, backed up by significant research, for how universal basic income might be implemented in a cost-effective manner. Transpolitica urges experimentation followed by action based on the best of these insights.

5. Risk awareness and management -> Avoid existential threats

Some emerging technologies – in particular artificial general intelligence and nanotechnology – are so powerful as to produce changes more dramatic than anything since the agricultural revolution. The outcomes could be extraordinarily positive for humanity, or they could threaten our very existence.

Existing technologies already pose potential catastrophic risks to the well-being of humanity:

  • The risk persists of accidental nuclear warfare
  • Runaway climate change might be triggered by unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases that push global temperatures beyond sudden tipping points.

There are further complications from relatively easy access by alienated, destructive individuals to weapons of mass destruction, including dirty bombs and synthetic pathogens.

Without being complacent, Transpolitica believes that sustained human innovation can mitigate all these risks, once they are fully understood. We call for significant resources to be applied to working out how to ensure that the outcomes are positive.

The wise management of the full set of existential risks is likely to involve innovations in technology (e.g. the development and production of cleaner energy sources), economics (e.g. a carbon tax to redress the market failure of unpenalized negative externalities), and politics (e.g. the collaborative creation and enforcement of binding treaties). The end outcome will be the successful harnessing of technologies, both old and new, for the radical enhancement of humanity.

6. Improved rationality -> New democratic governance

Whereas the fourth regenerative project seeks to deal with the possible end of employment (in the wake of improved automation), and the fifth regenerative project seeks to deal with the possible end of humanity itself (in the wake of adverse usage of technology), the sixth seeks to deal with possible failures in the operation of democracy. These failures may arise from technology being, again, applied for ill purpose, by autocrats and other politicians desperate to hang onto power and influence. Unless it addresses this risk, society faces the unwelcome prospect that the full benefits of new technology will be restricted, subverted, or negated.

The underpinnings of a prosperous, democratic, open society include digital rights, trusted, safe identities, robust infrastructure, and the ability to communicate freely without fear of recrimination or persecution. Transpolitica therefore wishes to:

  • Accelerate the development and deployment of tools ensuring personal privacy and improved cyber-security
  • Ensure the protection of critical Internet services even for the cases of wars and other emergencies (these services will include web archival, GitHub, Wikipedia, StackOverflow, trusted root keys, etc); for comparison, this protection is just as vital as the storing the seeds of critical food plants in the Norwegian Doomsday Vault
  • Extend governmental open data initiatives
  • Champion the adoption of “Democracy 2.0” online digital tools to improve knowledge-sharing, fact-checking, and collective decision-making
  • Increase the usefulness and effectiveness of online petitions
  • Restrict the undue influence which finance can have over the electoral and legislative process.

Government policy should be based on evidence rather than ideology:

  • Insights from the emerging field of cognitive biases should be adapted into decision-making processes
  • New committees and organisations should be designed so that they are less likely to suffer groupthink
  • AI systems should be increasingly used to support smart decision making.

Finally, to guard against a different form of oppression of free debate, all laws restricting free-speech based on the concept of “personal offence” should be revoked (this is a distinct concept from the crime of harassment). The principle should be advanced that anyone accepted into a country, whether as a visitor or as an immigrant, must confirm that they fully accept the principle of free speech, and renounce any use of legal or extralegal means to silence those who offend their religion or worldview.

With these safeguards all in place, the influence of politics on the development and deployment of technology should become beneficial rather than adverse. It will contribute to the creation of a positive feedback network of influences.

Building a positive feedback network

This same positive network also includes positive influences both to and from education. Education is addressed, in the Transpolitica framework, as one of four key enablers of the set of regenerative projects. Let’s turn to these next.

The four Transpolitica regeneration enablers

7. Education transformed in readiness for a radically different future

Transpolitica advocates a series of transformations in education. A greater proportion of time spent in education and training (whether formal or informal) should be future-focused, exploring

  • Which future scenarios are technically feasible, and which are fantasies
  • Which future scenarios are desirable, once their “future shock” has been accepted
  • What actions can be taken to accelerate the desirable outcomes, and avoid the undesirable ones
  • How to achieve an interdisciplinary understanding of future scenarios
  • How resilience can be promoted, rather than society just having a focus on efficiency
  • How creativity can be promoted, rather than society just having a focus on consumption
  • The intelligent management of risk.

Lifelong training and education should become the norm, with people of all ages learning new skills as the need becomes apparent in the new age of automation. Educational curricula need to be able to adapt rapidly.

Transpolitica would mandate that each university and educational establishment makes an increasing proportion of its material freely accessible online every year.

Education should take greater advantage of MOOCs (massive open online courses), and the possibility for people having their knowledge certified without enrolling in a traditional college. MOOCs can be usefully complemented with location based learning labs (“makerspaces”) absorbing some of existing library empty space, preserving the “open knowledge” of libraries and expanding it into “open education and learning”. Transpolitica anticipates a time where, apart from lab work, the whole of tertiary education will be delivered online.

8. A proactionary regulatory system to fast-track innovative breakthroughs

The so-called “precautionary principle” preferred by some risk-averse policy makers is often self-defeating: seeking to avoid all risks can itself pose many risks. The precautionary principle frequently hinders intelligent innovation. The “proactionary principle” is a better stance, in which risks are assessed and managed in a balanced way, rather than always avoided. Any bias in favour of the status quo should be challenged, with an eye on better futures that can be created.

Transpolitica observes that many potentially revolutionary therapies are under research, but current drug development has become increasingly slow and expensive (as summarised by “Eroom’s law”). Translational research is doing badly, in part due to current drug regulations which are increasingly out of step with public opinion, actual usage, and technology.

In practical terms, Transpolitica recommends:

  • Streamlining regulatory approval for new medicines, in line with recommendations by e.g. CASMI in the UK
  • Removing any arbitrary legal distinction between “therapies for ill-health” and “therapies for enhancement”.

Transpolitica also urges revisions in patent and copyright laws to discourage counter-productive hoarding of intellectual property:

  • Reduce the time periods of validity of patents in certain industry areas
  • Make it much less likely that companies can be granted “obvious” patents that give them a throat-choke on subsequent development in an industry area
  • Explore the feasibility of alternative and complementary schemes for facilitating open innovation, such as reputation economies or prize funds.

9. A progressive transhumanist rights agenda

A third factor that will underpin successful outcomes of the Transpolitica regenerative projects is the protection of what can be called “transhumanist rights”. This phrase indicates that:

  • The set of rights championed goes further than the set that normally viewed as comprising human rights
  • The recipients of these rights form a wider group of sentient organisms than just the human species.

The first significant transhumanist right that Transpolitica seeks to defend is the concept of morphological freedom:

  • The rights of all people, including sexual and gender minorities, to bodily self-determination
  • Free access to modern reproductive technologies, including genetic screening to improve the quality of life, for all prospective parents
  • Making it easier for people, if they so choose, to enter a state of cryonic suspension as their bodies come close to clinical death.

Transpolitica also wishes to:

  • Explore the gradual applicability of selected human rights to sentient beings, such as primates, that demonstrate relevant mental life, and also advanced AIs (when they exist in the future) that need such rights to function in their respective purpose
  • Hasten the adoption of synthetic (in-vitro) meat, and the abolition of cruelty to farm animals.

Finally in this section, Transpolitica envisions support for a radical future for consciousness. This will facilitate enhanced mental cooperation as minds become more interconnected via brain-to-computer interfaces and other foreseeable brain/mind technologies.

10. Funding and resourcing of regenerative projects

One more enabler deserves careful discussion – the funding and resourcing of the bold regenerative projects listed above.

The short answer is that these projects will be collectively self-funded by smart positive feedback cycles. The result of spending money in support of these projects is that money will be saved elsewhere, as a consequence of the projects. In addition to the longevity dividend already mentioned, there will be an important peace dividend and an equally important AI dividend.

In more detail, these projects can be funded and resourced by the following methods:

  • Tap into the well-spring of positive motivation and discretionary (volunteer) effort which these projects will unleash
  • Benefit from the longevity dividend, in which less budget will be consumed by end-of-life healthcare (prevention is cheaper than cure)
  • Smarter forms of international cooperation, reducing costs from efforts duplicated between different countries
  • When international cooperation enables it, divert funding from military budgets to regenerative budgets (peace dividend)
  • Eliminate the loopholes which allow multinational companies to shuffle revenues between countries and avoid paying due taxes
  • Apply the principle of “the polluter pays” with targeted new taxes such as when greenhouse gases are emitted
  • Savings from applying principles of automation and Information Technology wherever applicable (AI dividend).

The Transpolitica manifesto, summarised

A single page summary of the foregoing projects and enablers – as shown at the beginning of this article – depicts Transpolitica advocacy as split into three groups:

  • Projects to achieve sustainable, evolving well-being
  • Projects to apply tech-savvy proactive risk management
  • Enablers of regeneration and transcendence.

The first group consists of

  • Green tech leading to material abundance
  • Rejuvenation biotech leading to super health
  • Brain tech leading to super mental health.

The second group seeks to put in place

  • A new social contract, alongside automation
  • Existential risk awareness and solutions
  • Better democracy via revived rationality.

The third group involves

  • Education for a radically different future
  • A 21st century regulatory framework
  • A progressive transhumanist rights agenda
  • Projects funded by smart positive feedback.

Transpolitica outreach

Transpolitica outreach

Transpolitica envisions influencing and inspiring three different groups of political actors:

  • People who already have strong commitments to existing political parties, and who wish to continue operating within these parties
  • People who are concerned about political issues, but who feel strongly disinclined to become involved in any specific political party (whether old or new)
  • People who are ready to make a difference in their political environment by forming or joining a new party, such as a local Transhumanist Party.

This influence and inspiration will take place via publications, videos, memetic engineering, research, and campaigns. A list of “tasks awaiting volunteers” is maintained on the Transpolitica website.

There is no requirement for a Transpolitica volunteer or supporter to agree with all the principles set out earlier in this chapter. Indeed, the authors of the various chapters in the present book embody a variety of different stances and opinions.

Nor is there a requirement for a Transpolitica author to know all the answer. As you’ll find, the chapters are generally far from being fully comprehensive and encyclopaedic. They aim, instead, to place interesting questions onto the table of public political discussion, rather than to definitely answer these questions. The shared goal of the authors, for now, is to change the agenda of political discussion. This involves highlighting important opportunities and risks. There’s no need, for now, to provide authoritative implementation plans. Such plans may feature in later books in this series.

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 1 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.

The Vision Thing

By René Milan, Thelemic Transhumanist [see Editor’s note]

A brief review of existing visions for alternative political systems

Introduction

Last year’s establishment of the Transhumanist Party in the u.s. has sparked much activity in Europe towards the same goal, and it seems likely that the trend will spread across the planet within the next few years.  This begs the question of the ‘vision thing’ as G.H.W. Bush once called it.

Unlike the general movement which is under little pressure to develop a common goal about what kind of society and political, economic and social model or models it wants to pursue, and indeed encompasses a wide range of ideas on the topic, political transhumanism will be asked the question and must develop at least some vague models, and ultimately concrete programs, to work toward.

This task is complicated by these factors among others:

  • Participants in electoral democracies must adhere to the rules under which these systems operate, which also vary from country to country, despite the question of the desirability of these rules, and the likelihood that they will, perhaps profoundly, change as a consequence of accelerating advancement of technology and its effects on social structures anyway. But it is the essence of transhumanism to not only anticipate these changes but attempt to control them toward maximising benefits for the planet.
  • These changes bear a high degree of unpredictability, so the vision is necessarily a moving target. Nonetheless at least foundational principles and a general direction have to be made identifiable, and these will have to avoid being in conflict with local constitutional conditions as well as voter acceptability.
  • Most self-declared transhumanists entertain already individual visions which vary widely, sometimes enough to constitute incompatibilities, and those who participate in party politics must work to at least arrive at common denominators.

This process has barely begun, which is why i decided to assemble some existing models and fragments that appear suitable as building blocks for debating and developing visions that can be commonly agreed upon.

Vision 1

 Image source: http://www.kevmunday.co.uk/photos/society.jpg

A – Science Fiction

Over a century science fiction has established itself as a rich source of inspiration for technological and social innovation as it provides complete freedom from the restrictions of current reality for developing and fleshing out possible scenarios and offers an abundance of ideas and models.  Here i want to restrict myself to discussing only the one that is probably most widely known: Star Trek.

Those familiar with the various productions will know that the protagonists act within a world characterised by material abundance and minimised social conflict.  Yet the environment is far from a perfect utopia.  Evolution continues but mostly in regard to technology and little in terms of psychology and biology, problems with technology persist and conflicts mostly with other ‘species’ keep erupting, mostly at the periphery of the terrestrial federation.   While a comprehensive social model is never presented there are possibly enough indications of its elements to allow to reconstruct a somewhat comprehensive picture.  One such attempt has been undertaken by Rick Webb.

In his view,

The federation is a proto-post scarcity society evolved from democratic capitalism. It is, essentially, European socialist capitalism vastly expanded to the point where no one has to work unless they want to.

It is massively productive and efficient, allowing for the effective decoupling of labor and salary for the vast majority (but not all) of economic activity. The amount of welfare benefits available to all citizens is in excess of the needs of the citizens. Therefore, money is irrelevant to the lives of the citizenry, whether it exists or not. Resources are still accounted for and allocated in some manner, presumably by the amount of energy required to produce them (say Joules). And they are indeed credited to and debited from each citizen’s “account.” However, the average citizen doesn’t even notice it, though the government does, and again, it is not measured in currency units — definitely not Federation Credits. There is some level of scarcity — the Federation cannot manufacture a million starships, for example. This massive accounting is done by the Federation government in the background.

While it is not knowable that this socio-economic model did evolve from ‘democratic capitalism’, the similarities between it and social democratic capitalism are large enough,  the few references to the transition period, which took no more than a couple centuries, make no mention of disruptions major enough to have caused substantial deviations, so that this is a real possibility.  Apparently the only major intervening change is the substantial advancement of technological capacities which is already underway and accelerating.  This of course is a very optimistic scenario according to which today’s humans, if existential catastrophe can be avoided, just have to carry on as now.

But does this system of abundance really work well?  For the most part yes, but within limits.  On the individual level it is impossible to go overboard because

If they go crazy and try and purchase, say, 10 planets or 100 starships, the system simply says “no.”

Webb explains that this occurs rarely if at all by assuming strong ‘social pressure against conspicuous consumption’, but it seems more likely that it is due to the fact that nobody will be impressed by it when everybody has what they need and more, than because of social pressure which is likely to provide motivation to disregard it.  He points out that locally crises and disasters can and periodically do occur.  These can be caused by unforeseen environmental changes or interference by nonhumans.  Help is usually dispatched quickly but does not always arrive in time, and sometimes it is already too late by the time information reaches Starfleet.

In the current discussion the scope is usually limited to Terra.  The complications and unpredictabilities resulting from encountering and reacting to nonhuman interference are ignored, and for good reasons, as there is simply no way to know what benefits or threats it may bring.  Most existential threats that can be anticipated are home made.  Biospheric warming has already limited effects on politics, economics and technology; the only extraterrestrially caused events that warrant serious efforts of preparation are meteoric and cometary impacts.  It is therefore unnecessary to explore this aspect any further.

There is a lot of trading going on between humans and nonhumans, which presumably accounts to a degree for the abundant conditions in the terrestrial domain.  The Enterprise occasionally finds itself needing certain materials to carry on that have been lost, destroyed or consumed and they are often obtained through bartering from established nonhuman systems or freelance traders or smugglers.  The wild card in these scenarios appears to be replicator technology.  In the current debate additive manufacturing is often pointed to as a solution for self-sufficient resourcing, which is incorrect.  3D- printing will lower production costs mainly by eliminating labour expenses, but raw materials, ‘ink’, will still have to be synthesised, mined or grown.  A much larger step will be alchemy through nanotechnology.  My conclusion was that this is the method used in replicators, and if so it is unclear why the ship would be dependent on bartering.  Some reviewers however go a step even further and claim that replicators create matter from energy, which appears highly unlikely given how much energy would be needed according to Einstein’s famous formula just to constantly feed a thousand people.  But then i do not know how and how much energy can actually be generated by warp drive technology.  As long as humans are confined to Terra it would appear that nanotech will be sufficient to provide the material basis for abundance.

Quite a few essays and articles about Star Trek and its economics can be found, and a few caught my attention for various reasons.

One by Greg Stevens makes an interesting and quite obvious connection to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and says:

If human endeavours are seen as advancing up this noble ladder of advancement, then any society where all of the basic low-level needs are met would obviously be left to while away their time exclusively on love, self-esteem, and self-actualisation.

Near the end of his article Stevens points to this possibility:

One of the biggest fears that comes up in this discussion is the simple fear of pranks and mischief-makers. Mischief-makers of this kind are largely absent from the Star Trek universe, but they are a very real component of humanity.

He quotes from Rudy Rucker’s “Realware” and presents some examples of his own, illustrating the possibility to create anything out of thin air and concluding:

Some people will want to band together and perform great creative deeds for the betterment of humanity …..  But some people – maybe even most people – will want a thousand-ton turd.

In this extrapolation he ignores the probabilities indicated by accelerating evolution of human psychology, but if this were to become a real problem there will be technological solutions to it.

In his piece “The Star Trek Economy Thing” Joshua Gans, after dealing with the problem of how to measure the value of goods and thus G.D.P. growth, points to the changes of terrestrial economy caused by the massive increase in military production after the first Borg invasion.  While it remains rather unlikely that Terra will be invaded by the Borg, or will be able to resist, anytime soon, it is important to expect the unexpected and gear some of the wealth derived from the coming abundance toward dealing with unanticipated high impact events.

At the conclusion of his article Fred E. Foldvary writes:

Each person’s heritage, values, and personality are respected. While this is relatively easy to achieve in the organizational order of a ship, to do this on a galactic scale requires universal liberty where each person, regardless of species, has an equal right to do whatever does not coercively harm others.

Ship captains repeatedly talk about cultural evolution as if it is following along the same lines for each ‘species’.  But that this is not necessarily so is shown most starkly by the Borg but also others like the ‘extragalactic’ Species 8472.  I do not even think that all posthumans will want to continue evolving uniformly, as we already are confronted with incompatibility among human cultures to which my proposed solution is habitat separation, an issue i will address elsewhere.

The strongest connection between Star Trek economy and current theory of economics is made by Andrew Leonard in his Salon article “The utopian economics of Star Trek”.  Starting out from J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film ‘Star Trek’ he points to the explicit reference it makes to new growth theory as laid out in Paul Romer’s 1990 paper “Endogenous Technological Change” (download).  Not being an economist i am in no position to technically evaluate its merits, but it has found wide acceptance and seems to be definitely worth studying in the quest for economic models compatible with transhumanist thought.  For non-experts like me easy introductions are offered in WP and by Tyler Cohen’s and Alex Tabarrok’s brief video introduction.

In conclusion it appears that models presented in Star Trek and other science fiction creations, many of which are much further removed from the present, are of limited value in developing a politico-economic transhumanist theory.  By their very nature as stories to be told they inevitably focus much more on the what than on the how.  However they contain plenty of ideas that can be useful in defining transhumanist goals.

B – Transhumania

In the very near future Transhumania is created as an extraterritorial independent city state floating offshore in international waters.  Zoltan Istvan has used this device for the plot of his novel “The Transhumanist Wager” but also as an illustration of his idea of a transhumanist polity; therefore it gets a fair amount of the author’s attention in that he outlines principles and practices of living and working together in a transhumanist community.

While quite a few reviews of the book itself have been written, not much has been on this particular subject yet.  There is an interesting piece by 33rdsquare which deals with the figure of Jethro, the main protagonist and most radical of the transhumanists, but it becomes clear in the course of reading that there is no real difference between his person and the political system he implements, and i will refer to it later.

In the press conference where Jethro presents Transhumania to the rest of the world, he says the following:

Ladies and gentlemen, behind me on the screen is a picture of Transhumania, the seasteading transhuman nation where scientists, technologists, and futurists carry out research they believe is their moral right and in the best interest of themselves. We are on our way towards attaining unending sentience and the most advanced forms of ourselves that we can reach, which is the essence of the transhuman mission.

And later:

On Transhumania, we are all one-person universes, one-person existences, one-person cultures. Bearing that in mind, we may still live or die for one another: for our families, for our children, for our spouses, for our friends, for our colleagues at Transhumania—or for those whom we respect and for whom we care to reasonably live or die. We will not live or die for someone we don’t know, however. Or for someone we don’t respect. Or for someone or something we don’t value. We will not throw away years of our lives for uneducated consumers, for welfare-collecting non-producers, for fool religious fanatics, or for corrupt politicians who know law but don’t stand by it or practice it.

This does not contain much information on the topic, but provides a good insight into the intellectual atmosphere in which Transhumania is conceived and created.  Only the first sentence of the second paragraph hints at principles of social organisation.  Clearly the individual is the basic element.  This one-person universe can submit to more general collectives such as family and friends, implied by one’s willingness to die for them, and the term ‘submit’ is used here not in the sense of subordination but that of integration.  But i question the verity of including colleagues here.  If this refers to colleagues in general it seems plausible in the sense that they have all submitted themselves to the idea and cause of Transhumania, have integrated into it and thereby become subject to the willingness to die for Transhumania itself.  But if it regards personal disagreement or conflict such a decision would have to be taken under the rules of utility as described in the following quote that closes Jethro’s address, and will be further discussed within the topic of humanicide:

We will invite you to join us: as friends, as colleagues, as comrades. And we will trade value to each other to gain what we want. We will discriminate against and judge each other on the basis of whether we offer sufficient utility to one another or not. There’s only one quintessential rule on Transhumania: If you don’t add value to the transhuman mission, if you are inconsequential or a negative sum to our success, then you will be forced off and away from our nation.

The political structure of Transhumania does not amount to much more than derivation from Jethro’s logic, which i consider to not always be compelling, and the social structure during the island days is firmly based on the business principle: benefits in exchange for work.  This changes later when after a military confrontation with a coalition of established governments is won by Transhumania which then proceeds to govern all planetary affairs.  The underlying principle is a hierarchical meritocracy with Jethro, bearing the most merit, at the top.

All reviewers appear to agree that when Transhumania takes on global rulership Jethro starts using his position in dictatorial manners.  I tend to disagree.  The project has been run this way since its inception, only until now he never encountered any resistance.  The following quotes illustrate the way in which his transhumanist ideology remains paramount:

The Transhuman Revolution seeks to transform the world into a transhumanist-inspired planet. Transhumania aims to fulfil that goal in order to harness the Earth’s resources and to unite with those millions of people on the outside who can, and want to, help us accelerate the greater transhuman mission…

Jethro turned from the ocean and stated firmly to the leaders of Transhumania, “We want to teach the people of the outside world, not destroy them; we want to convince them, not dictate them; we want them to join us, not fight us.

In the following i sense an almost fascist attitude of contempt: “If you weren’t an intellectual with progressive thinking and creative futuristic ideas, you were no one”, which is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that mandatory and free education is provided.

And the reference to Earth’s resources betrays colonialist impulse:

The Transhuman Revolution seeks to transform the world into a transhumanist-inspired planet. Transhumania aims to fulfil that goal in order to harness the Earth’s resources and to unite with those millions of people on the outside who can, and want to, help us accelerate the greater transhuman mission.

And here he surprisingly commits a grave logic error, taking his reasoning to absurd conclusions:

The optimum transhuman trajectory of civilization is that which creates the most efficient way to produce omnipotenders.  Currently, the best way to accomplish this is to achieve as expediently as possible the highest amount of productive transhuman life house in the maximum amount of human beings; however not all human beings will be a net-positive in producing omnipotenders.  Any individual who ultimately hampers the optimum transhuman trajectory of civilization should be eliminated.  The Humanicide Formula addresses these issues directly.  It determines whether an individual should live or die based on an algorithm measuring transhuman productivity in terms of that individual’s remaining life hours, their resource consumption in a finite system, and their past, present and potential future contributions.

Besides the inane concept omnipotender, meaning an almighty one, which is an unrealistic idea and contributes nothing to the story, there is no need for such a formula in an abundance based society.  This seems to be more of an expression of dislike of, and contempt for, those who show no interest in becoming ‘omnipotenders’, and it implies totalitarian control over the behaviours of individuals.

This is addressed by 33rdsquare as well:

Knights even describes how TEF should make people try to act like computers, to explore and even attain a “cold precisionlike morality” and a “harsh machine-like objectivity.”   Among the controversial ideas Knights and his fellow transhumanists act out would transfer those billions from programs that fund society’s most vulnerable — or as Knights says, “lazy welfare recipients,” “mentally challenged, “uneducated repeat criminals” and “obese second-rate citizens bankrupting our medical system”.

But Jethro manifests more agreeable aspects of his personality.  Here he shows a degree of transparency rarely seen in current governments:

Every one of you is to go to your teams and staff today, and tell them the same thing I have told you: war is imminent. You are also to offer them the same opportunity to leave Transhumania on the same terms I have given you. Tell them everything exactly as I have told you just now.

After 17 years of undivided rule he announces ‘democratic elections’.  At this point transhumanism has been firmly established and accepted, and the presidency smoothly goes to his closest associate.  This raises the question of what criteria should apply for participation in ‘democracy’, a topic to which we will return later.

As we have seen there is not much in the rules by which Transhumania is governed that is applicable to the foundations and policies of current transhumanist parties.  This is quite surprising but can be explained by the way in which transhumanism comes to power in the novel and by Jethro’s l’état c’est moi approach.  Meanwhile in the real world Zoltan is pioneering the transhumanists’ hopefully not too long march through the institutions.

C – Neue Slowenische Kunst

NSK or Neue Slowenische Kunst, which is german for New Slovenian Art, is an art collective based in Lublijana.  It was founded in 1984 by the multimedia group Laibach (established 1980), the visual arts group Irwin (1983), and the theatre group Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre (SNST) (1983–87).  Further groups have joined since then.  In 1992 they founded NSK State in Time, which is described on their website:

The State is conceived as a utopian formation which has no physical territory and is not identified with any existing national state. It is inherently transnational and describes itself as ‘the first global state of the universe.’ It issues passports to anyone who is prepared to identify with its founding principles and citizenship is open to all regardless of national, sexual, religious or other status. It now has several thousand citizens across numerous countries and all continents, including a large number in Nigeria. The NSK State itself is a collective cultural work, formed by both the iconography and statements of its founders and its citizens’ responses to these and to the existence of the state. It is also part of the wider ‘Micronations’ movement which has grown increasingly visible and received growing critical and theoretical attention in recent years.

It is clearly not directly applicable to current or future realpolitics transhumanist parties are dedicated to, but still can serve as a model to work toward in the long view.

Several very interesting articles have been written about it, most putting greater emphasis on its artistic implications than the political ones, even though the two are inseparable.

Conor McGrady writes in The Brooklyn Rail:

A full working group session also examined the question of whether the NSK state should or should not consider itself a micronation. Loosely described as “independent nations or states, but which are not recognized by world governments or major international organizations,” micronations usually exist as social or political simulations. On this issue delegates were unanimous. It was argued that the NSK state transcends micronations, in that for the most part they limit themselves to outmoded forms of government, mimicking fiefdoms, monarchies, and other feudal structures. As the “first global State of the Universe,” it was suggested that the state relate to micronations in a paternal fashion, rather than build fraternal ties.

On the influencers site i found this quote:

The artists who form the collective Irwin are the visual biographers of NSK: their work, framed within the tradition of totalitarian regimes, reappropriated the supremacist symbols of the Eastern European Block to construct their own identity as “state artists”, faithful to a strict collective discipline. They opened consulates, designed badges and distributed passports for the NSK, a “state in time” that takes the paradoxes of state identity to an extreme in order to ultimately reveal a glimpse of the hidden face of existing ideological structures.

The most interesting view is presented by Gordan Djurdjevic in his article ‘Crossing the Wires: Art, Radical Politics, and Esotericism in the Project of Neue Slowenische Kunst’ on the academia site, where he explores the esoteric dimension of NSK, which he introduces with two quotes:

  • “All art is Magick” – Aleister Crowley
  • “All art is subject to political manipulation … except for that which speaks the language of this same manipulation” – Laibach

In 2005 MIT published an extensive treatment of Laibach and NSK by Alexei Monroe under the title of ‘Interrogation Machine’.

Certainly transhumanism will have to develop an artistic foundation, especially in the context of party politics and propaganda.  NSK can provide interesting and valid ideas, and should be studied.

D – Zero State

Zero State is an emerging trans-national, virtual state.  On its website it is presented as follows:

The Zero State (ZS) community works toward the establishment of a VDP (Virtual/Distributed/Parallel) State or “Polystate” committed to Social Futurism and the WAVE Principles.

These terms are explained there subsequently, with the exception of ‘Polystate’ which may still be in flux; it has no WP entry yet, but here Poly- and VDP state are equated.  We will look at Polystate separately later on.

On its site there is a FAQ section that describes its general ideas and the possibilities of participation, but not much is said about either its internal structure or its ideas for the organisation of the world at large.  However in an article on the IEET site by Amon Twyman, who is the founder of ZS, entitled “The Social Futurist policy toolkit” he says: “It is my intent that this toolkit should form a kind of bridge between the broadest, most general level of political discussion on the one hand, and the development of specific policies for local groups on the other”, and lays out the following six policy categories:

  1. Evidence, Balance, & Transition
  2. Universal Basic Income & LVAT
  3. Abolition of Fractional Reserve Banking
  4. Responsible Capitalism, Post-Scarcity, & Emergent Commodity Markets
  5. Human autonomy, privacy, & enhancement
  6. Establishment of VDP (Virtual, Distributed, Parallel) States

It would be redundant to explain these categories here, and i highly recommend reading the original text on the site.  Another promising source may be the book “Zero State: Year Zero”, which to read i did not have enough time.  Another source worth mentioning here is the technoprogessive declaration conceived during the TransVision conference of 2014 and mentioned here by James Hughes.

While far from a comprehensive program, an internal constitution or a vision of how to optimally organise local, national, or virtual association, this toolkit does in fact deliver the “the broadest, most general level of political discussion”, which can be the basis for any and all of the above.  The principles underlying these policies can be applied to all political activities.  Besides the Transpolitica manifesto, which is actually ideologically very close to, if not identical with, Twyman’s social futurism, and well worth studying, this is in fact the most suitable material i have come across in my search for transhumanist political principles.  But that is no accident as ZS is clearly a transhumanist organisation de facto, if not explicitly, and it has begun developing long before transhumanism entered the political arena.

E – Libertarianism

There are two areas where a strong connection between transhumanism and libertarianism exists.

History:  early transhumanism, namely extropianism (now extropism), grew, at least in part, out of the 60s counterculture, a confluence of various movements such as those who work for equality before the law (race, gender, wealth, age) and those who work for mental, physical, and social self-determination.  Many among them declared themselves to be libertarian, quite often reflexively as a reaction to the restrictive policies used against them.  Libertarianism was almost the countercultural default position in those days.

Economy: many of the people who dream up, develop and produce the technologies that are essential to transhumanist thought are unsurprisingly entrepreneurs and capitalists, and a sizable number among them are libertarians, trying to minimise government influence on business activities.

Since the turn of the century an increasing influx of a variety of new ideas and people into transhumanism is underway, and now libertarians are a large minority within the movement.

Even though the core idea of libertarianism is that of individual freedom with an emphasis on protection against intrusion by ‘authority’, this has often been expanded and altered.  Within the economic domain it often refers to the freedom of business activities and strongly overlaps with neoliberalism.  Other variants such as socialist, anarchist and cooperative libertarians promote freedom from corporate as well as governmental interference.

Politically libertarianism plays a significant role mostly in the u.s., while in Europe it is more of philosophical interest.  Because of the diversity in the usage of the term, it is not easy to find common libertarian principles that could apply to transhumanism.

However there is an extropian manifesto that contains the following policy principles:

  • Endless eXtension – perpetual growth in accord with biological and technological evolution
  • Transcending Restriction – “abolish all restrictions imposed by religion, protectionism, segregation, racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism, and any of the other archaic fears and hatreds”
  • Overcoming Property – reform of “archaic, out-dated human laws that govern possession by improving and/or annihilating terms such as ownership, copyright, patent, money and property”
  • Intelligence – “The most valuable material in the universe is information and the imagination to do something with it”
  • Smart Machines – “attainment of Friendly Artificial Intelligence. We promote the development of robots, computers, and all machines that can emulate human thought, copy minds, and attain intelligence that exceeds human ability”

These are explained further on that site.  They appear to be quite compatible with those of ZS mentioned above, again unsurprisingly.  Another concept that i find very useful is that of the Proactionary Principle explained on the Extropy Institute’s site.

F – Socialism

Even though socialist ideas have been promoted since long before Karl Marx, his version is often associated with the term.  Founded in materialism that holds that history is driven by the changing material base, the economic conditions, which determines the superstructure, society’s culture and politics, it is based on the principles of collective ownership, compensation by contribution and production for use.

While for Marx socialism was a transient period leading by historical necessity to communism, the various forms of socialism we see today, including social democracy, would be described by him as reformist.  He made explicit this distinction in his 1848 Communist Manifesto.

Unfortunately he did not foresee the development of the power of the media we see today, which does a lot to obscure the perception of real class differences, especially in the u.s. where the term ‘class’ has been successfully banned from the vocabulary in order to keep up the pretence that class does not exist, which leads almost half the population to regularly vote contrary to their own material interests.  He also ignored, understandably, the fact that the traits that lead humans to capitalist behaviour in the first place, namely hoarding and raiding, control and violence, are anchored deeply within the genetic code as they proved to be conducive to survival during a long period of human history.  This was the main reason that the only real experiment to implement his model three decades after his death, the soviet union, showed signs of failing even under Lenin and turned into an imperialist ‘thugocracy’ under Stalin, from which it never recovered.  Thus socialism as it exists today is quite distinct from the marxist idea and comes in a wide range of variations which can also be quite distinct from each other.

As it would exceed the scope of this writing to explore the many variations of socialism that today are alive and, because of the accelerating excesses of capitalism, increasingly kicking, it shall suffice to point again to the above quoted article by Twyman.  At least points 2, 3, and 4 in his policy toolkit imply a more or less profound reform if not abolition of capitalism.  In fact the article also includes ‘A note on Marxism’, in which he says:

Social Futurism does not deny the Marxist analysis of the problem, but seeks a staged transition to a post-Capitalist society which does not attempt to undermine the entire basis of our current society in a single move.

I completely agree with this position, but in this context point out that his transhumanism, or ‘social futurism’, is one form, in my view the most advanced, of what Marx would have called ‘socialist reformism’.

Even the third point in the extropian manifesto ‘Overcoming Property’, far from being libertarian as understood in the u.s., is in complete contradiction to the foundation of capitalism.

In closing i must point to the above mentioned principle of ‘production for use’ as opposed to production for profit.  As the latter takes an increasing proportion of value out of the economy and makes it disappear into a finite holding of unproductive land and real estate value as well as an infinite holding of financial or virtual value, transhumanism, which is based in reason, but also any reasonable economist, will see virtue in this principle.

G – Anarchism

Like socialism anarchism is a historic phenomenon with close links to the former that also is alive today in theory but much less in practice of political significance.  There are no anarchist governments in existence and no significant anarchist parties, the latter actually being a self-contradictory concept.  Another problem is that anarchism in much of public perception still carries terrorist connotations.

And like socialism it also manifests a wide range of sometimes contradictory variants, too many to list in this context, but a fairly comprehensive overview can be found here.

However there exists an explicit form of transhumanist anarchism with its own manifesto.  It claims to be based on the Transpolitica manifesto, from which it distinguishes itself by introducing the concept of vanguardism:

Vanguardism traditionally conceived of a small group of people who value a socialist state to guide the working class (proletariat) away from the tyranny of the capitalist-state and the few who run it (bourgeoisie)”.

This is sensible only under the premise of misidentifying socialism as leninism, stalinism or some other such manifestation, and adds nothing of value to the discourse.

While the manifesto is perhaps the most detailed presentation of transhumanist policy ideas, and i essentially agree with its intention and recommend it as a rich source of material and inspiration, i see two major flaws with it.

To associate transhumanism with anarchism, and anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism in particular, instead of promoting these ideas simply as transhumanist policy principles, is a tactically unwise move that will not find much resonance in populations of currently existing polities.  Likewise including the Fermi paradox is unneeded baggage and the question “Have millions of civilisations gone extinct because they could not realize such a [anarchist] society?” is naively self centered and showing an untranshumanist lack of imagination.

It appears to be in disagreement with engaging in electoral procedures within current systems that even allow for such an option.  “Said reform rarely happens as parties become interconnected with the current neoliberal system”.  My conclusion is not inescapable, but a political party by its very nature has to be connected with existing systems, none of which are by definition neoliberal, neoliberalism being just the current marketing device of capitalism.

H – Democracy

Even more so than socialism and anarchism, the term is applied in a myriad of ways, ranging from the just mentioned anarchism through western systems to the DPRK.  Everyone, including transhumanism, and even Jethro Knight’s version, wants to be ‘democratic’ because of the populist attraction it has assumed over the past two centuries.  In truth the rule of the people has remained elusive, and personally i object to it at least until ‘the people’ have, through voluntary, if possible, genetic reprogramming or otherwise, purged themselves of the obstructive tendencies acquired in the course of human evolution.  But a more plausible solution appears to be the delegation of policy decisions to future machine intelligence altogether.  However neither is currently or in the immediate future available and the idea is beyond our current concern; my point here is that like everything else, the idea of rule by the people should be questioned.

But if the ‘will of the people’ is to partake in the generation of political decisions, there should be more efficient ways to accomplish this than through representative bodies, despite the fact that that is currently the only model being practiced.  Most people do not feel like they have any real influence on politics, especially on the state level, and the clearest indicator for this is the often quite low rate of electoral participation.  I shall here present brief descriptions of some alternative approaches.

1. Delegative Democracy

There is precious little information out there on this concept despite it being very plausible at first glance.  The best i could find is Bryan Ford’s 2002 paper, and apparently its last two sections are still under construction.  In 2014 he published ‘Revisited’, which contains some further links.  Both are here.

The idea is that each voting right holder can choose to delegate his vote, preferably to a person he trusts and knows to hold similar views on the matters of concern as himself, or to become a delegate himself.  This principle is repeatable so that the next level will always be comprised of fewer delegates than the previous.  Each delegate is afforded a degree of influence corresponding to the number of votes he represents.  The aim is to combine the principle of direct democracy with the practicality of representative democracy.

Advantages are among others that voters, even those who have no time or inclination to study the issues in question, can feel that their votes are not wasted, and that the cost for entering the process is low.  The WP entry contains a more detailed list, and Ford’s paper discusses ideas on practical problems and solutions.

Software solutions for implementing the systems have been developed and European Pirate Parties are using them.  There is also a brief and quite superficial video introduction.

The model is certainly one to be explored, discussed and tested.

2. Deliberative Democracy

Beyond the question of how to best recognise and realise voters’ intentions, this model is concerned with the quality of those intentions.  Valid decisions can only be arrived at through explicit deliberation free of the influence of prevailing power structures.

The main forum promoting this view is the Center for Deliberative Democracy (CDD) at Stanford and its website contains research papers, events, briefing documents, questionnaires, a downloadable toolkit, case studies, videos and press publications.

The case studies always involve deliberative polling, whereby random samples of people, considered to be statistically representative, convene to intensely deliberate certain issues under the guidance of trained moderators.  They are polled before, during and after their discussions and considerable changes in content and quality of opinion are often found.

Currently the main proponent of the concept is James S. Fishkin, director of the CDD.  He and others present a series of videos that will give the reader a good idea of the theory and current practice of deliberative democracy.

In his 1985 book ‘Is Democracy Possible?’, last updated in 2014, John Burnheim presents a much more profound approach, based on rethinking the current social and political structures quite radically.

He envisions the obliteration of the state, promotes the concept of decentralisation and introduces the idea of ‘demarchy’.  I quote:

In order to have democracy we must abandon elections, and in most cases referendums, and revert to the ancient principle of choosing by lot those who are to hold various public offices. Decision-making bodies should be statistically representative of those affected by their decisions. The illusory control exercised by voting for representatives has to be replaced by the chance of nominating and being selected as an active participant in the formulation of decisions. Elections, I shall argue, inherently breed oligarchies. Democracy is possible only if the decision-makers are a representative sample of the people concerned. I shall call a polity based on this principle a demarchy, using “democracy” to cover both electoral democracy and demarchy […..]

The whole tendency of demarchy is to replace the rigid legal electoral and administrative procedures of state democracy, which tend to standardize and atomize people, by flexible, responsive, participatory procedures that permit and foster maximum variety.

The whole last chapter is devoted to this concept of demarchy.  He lists four conditions for its realisation:

a) The first condition of demarchy being possible is that the society in which it is to be instituted be reasonably democratic in its social attitudes. While recognizing that people may differ greatly in particular abilities, the demarchist does not believe that there is any group of people whose capacities entitle them to a position of special or wide-ranging power in the community. At the base level choices made by people of no special ability are likely to be reasonable provided they are based on sound knowledge. They may need expert advice, but the judgement about whose advice to take is appropriately made by lay persons.

b) The productive technology of the society must be ample to provide a good deal of time and resources that can be devoted to public debate and decision-making.

c) People must value the opportunity for effective participation in matters that interest them and be prepared to leave other matters to those who have those interests, provided they are satisfied that the system is fair and effective.

d) People must be anxious to avoid rigidity, bureaucracy and concentration of power. They must want to avoid giving power to the state if other social mechanisms will produce common goods reliably and fairly.

The book is too full of ideas to do them justice here.  One particular gem that i want to include, because it is the expression of an essentially transhumanist view: “What human nature is is a matter of what human beings can do.”

The whole topic of Deliberative Democracy and this book in particular offer plenty of food for thought, and i highly recommend incorporating these ideas in discussing and developing a foundation for transhumanist politics.

3. Participism

As the name implies, this concept attempts to allow for determination by the people through active participation in both political and economical processes.  These two branches are known separately as parpolity and parecon; their main proponents are Michael Albert, Robin Hahnel and Stephen R.  Shalom.  Instead of discussing these features here suffice it to describe them in the words of the authors.

In a short interview Shalom describes parpolity as

A type of direct democracy, using a system of nested councils. Everyone would be a member of a primary council, which would be small enough for face-to-face decision making and for real deliberation. Decisions that affected only or overwhelmingly the members of one of these councils would be made in that council. Decisions that affected more than the people in a single council would be made in a higher-level council that would consist of delegates from several lower-level councils. There would then be additional council layers as needed to accommodate the entire society. […..] There are other aspects of the Parpolity model—such as the High Council Court, a mechanism that attempts to protect the rights of minorities without (like the US Supreme Court) becoming an instrument of minority rule.

On parecon Hahnel says:

Parecon is a proposal or vision for how to accomplish economic functions consistent with classlessness, self-management, solidarity, equity, diversity, and ecological good sense.  Parecon is not, however, a blueprint, but is rather a formulation of some critical attributes a few key aspects of economics need to have if we are to accomplish desirable aims. Beyond those critical attributes of key aspects, there is, of course, room for great diversity […..]

And what are parecon’s key aspects? First, workers and consumers self-managing councils, where self-management means people have a say in decisions proportionate to the extent they are affected by them […..]

The next key feature of parecon is called balanced job complexes. This names a new way of dividing tasks among jobs. In a participatory economy, you do a job, so do I, and so do all others who are of age and able to do work that contributes to society. More, we each choose a job that we wish to do […..] we define jobs so that each one includes a mix of tasks that convey, overall, roughly the same degree of empowerment as other balanced jobs convey to other workers […..]

The third defining feature of a participatory economy is a new norm for determining how much of the social output each member of society receives […..] people should get a share of the total social output in accord with the duration, intensity, and onerousness or socially valued labor that they do […..]

Finally, the last key aspect of parecon and the hardest to be brief about, is called participatory planning. This approach to allocation replaces markets and central planning, each of which directly violates central aims and values of parecon and each of which also generates class division and class rule […..] Very briefly, workers’ and consumers’ councils, which were mentioned earlier, cooperatively negotiate economic outcomes, without incurring undue costs in time allotted and in a manner conducive not only to self-management, but to the most informed choices possible. The procedures involve making proposals, assessing them, and refining them, all in light of steadily improving indications of true and full social and ecological costs and benefits, until arriving at a plan.

There are several books by each, Albert and Hahnel, and one by Shalom available at Amazon, as well as a graphic book titled Parecomic by Michael Wilson about the concept and about Albert in particular.  A very rich source is the media group Z Communications, cofounded and coedited by Albert.

Deadlines prohibit me to deeply review all the material, but it certainly should be included in the discussion of our topic.

4. Others

There are many other ideas for improving the performance of current systems, more than i have space here to address.  But i want to mention the work of Roberto Mangabeira Unger. In his idea of Empowered Democracy he emphasises the need for social experimentation and wants to see it given room within current polities in the expectation that once underway it will lead to progressive change.  Much of his work can be viewed on and downloaded from his website.

J – Polystate

Even though Amon Twyman uses the term, as mentioned, to categorise ZS, i could not find any further references to it, except last year’s eponymous book by Zach Weinersmith.  This is one of the most interesting ideas i have come across, especially in the transhumanist context as it deals with political constructs based in virtual spaces.  Under the assumption that politics will be increasingly migrating into virtual spaces, as many other activities like business and the media already have done and are doing, i have approached the book from the perspective of looking for solutions not only for developing political theories and performing certain political functions such as voting, but for governance itself.  However instead of internal political structures and functions it concentrates on problems of interstate relationships.

Weinersmith introduces these three concepts:

  1. Anthrostate – “A set of laws and institutions that govern the behavior of individuals, but which do not govern a behavior within geographic borders”.
  2. Geostate – This is a political entity defined by the fact that its governance usually extends over a fixed geographical area. This includes almost all current nation states.
  3. Polystate – “The polystate is the collection of anthrostates in a hypothetical human society”.

The central topic of the book is the anthrostate, and the relationships of multiple not necessarily compatible anthrostates within a polystate.  Weinersmith assumes reasonably that the internal structures and functions as well as their underlying ideologies can vary wildly.  About the concept itself he says: “I am not a proponent of this idea or a detractor”.  The idea of ‘government of choice’ is not a new one.  It is known under the concept of panarchism, first introduced by Paul Émile de Puydt in his 1860 paper ‘Panarchy’.

Unfortunately i let myself be misled into thinking that anthrostates as well as polystates are based within one or several geostates, probably because it is never explicitly stated that a polystate indeed is based within its own geographic area, and because ZS, the one polystate mentioned earlier, is obviously based within many geostates.  Indeed at location 605 is this quote: “WS-1 [a hypothetical polystate] does not claim any territory”.  But there are several other quotes i could list that seem to indicate that polystates can indeed have their own territory.  This conflict is never really resolved.

Much of the book deals with relations between anthrostates, exploring ways in which problems resulting from incompatibilities in for instance economical, criminal, electoral and taxational laws can be resolved, including warfare.  Under current conditions no geostate would cede authority in these matters or tolerate these conflicts within its territory.

As initially mentioned many transhumanist parties have sprung up across the globe, all aiming at participating in national elections except for one: TPV (transhumanist party virtual).  This can not be a true party until it finds a state, such as an anthrostate, within which it could compete.  However the two virtual states mentioned are not prepared for electoral democracy, and may not ever decide to be.  As i know of no other virtual state that is, most likely because an established legislature would not have the power to implement any of the above mentioned policies within the territory of any geostate, and therefore would under current conditions be of limited utility, the whole issue remains hypothetical.

Indeed Weinersmith has described his book as a thought experiment, and as such i find it to be a good source of ideas.  In a recent interview he refers to the “discretization of experience”, by which he means the increasing variety of choices for customers afforded by technology, which he extrapolates, very reasonably, to include choices for customers of government.  In his book however he takes this idea to the point of having for instance an anarchist, a communist, a liberal and a fascist sharing the same house (possibly even the same apartment?) and living under different governments and laws.  This shows the inherent weakness of the oxymoronic concept of virtual reality.  There are only two ways in which it can be achieved:  subjectively, by induced amnesia so that the subject is not aware of any reality outside the one he experiences, which is the model assumed by simulation theories, or objectively, by transitioning from physical existence into virtual existence as software while maintaining awareness of the existence of physical reality.  Unless one accepts the esoteric concept of involution according to which the physical plane of existence emerged from the astral, and that in turn from the causal one, all nonphysical realities always remain rooted in the physical.  To live within a computer its physical machinery must be maintained, protected and energised.  The same is true for a virtual polystate, and sharing it with an IS militant would sooner or later lead to conflict not only between anthrostates but also involving the not so virtual reality of physical swords and bombs.

In conclusion it seems clear that Weinersmith does not offer or try to offer any real solutions to the problem of what used to be subcultures multiplying and consolidating in virtual spaces and reconciling their differences with the physical basis within which they operate.  That will have to be, and is being, done by emerging virtual states, parties and other political bodies themselves.   As for the objective of developing political structures congruent with transhumanist thought, he takes no position here.

Conclusion

Even though the presented constitutes a very limited sample, there is certainly no shortage of ideas, and there are some more elaborate models, out there that can and should be used in discussing and developing theories that will be coherent within a transhumanist framework.  Transhumanist parties and their theoreticians have a big task ahead which is alleviated by agreement on common principles while giving room to accommodating different national conditions.

But i have been encouraged by seeing how many good brains have been working on these ideas for years already.

On this optimistic note i will leave the reader with an interesting historical observation published by the Center for Systemic Peace.

Global Trends in Governance

Editor’s Note:

The author of this chapter has chosen to abide by his personal style which includes customised spelling, neologisms, minimal capitalisation, and other peculiarities, which may appear to the reader to be mistakes.

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 7 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.

Transpolitica Plans: Beyond Book 1

Ahead of a Transpolitica coordination hangout later today (Monday 30th March), here are updates on four plans that are currently under consideration:

1. Towards “Politics 2.0”

Book 2 Cover 0

The previous plan of record is that a new Transpolitica book, provisionally entitled “Politics 2.0”, will be collaboratively created and released, with timetable as follows:

  • Potential chapter writers should submit short abstracts by 21st April
  • Complete publication-ready text should be submitted by the end of May
  • An e-book will be available by 21st June.

What’s now under consideration is that the chapters of this book should all be published online, to increase readership. This publication would take place after the same sort of group review that preceded the publication of the first book in the Transpolitica series.

It remains to be decided which themes will have most focus in this new book. Ideally, topics from the first book which are generating the most reaction will be revisited in the second book.

2. Opening up readership of the first Transpolitica book

The ideas in the chapters of the first Transpolitica book, “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”, deserve wider discussion. Two steps might aid this:

  • Publishing all the chapters online, freely accessible (in the same way that is proposed above for the second book in the series)
  • Finding and supporting a discussion forum (Reddit?) in which these chapters can be collaboratively debated.

3. Supporting the Transhumanist Party policy debate

The Transhumanist Party in the UK has published, on its own forums, a series of initial thought-pieces covering policy areas such as defence, economy, education, environment, the EU, foreign policy, health, judicial, political reform, and social. Transhumanist Party members will be revising these draft policy documents ahead of presenting them for formal approval at a forthcoming general meeting of the party.

Although some of the policies under discussion have a UK-flavour, most of them are likely to be relevant to other transhumanist political parties around the world. A good project for Transpolitica supporters would be to review one or more of these draft policy documents and provide brief, measured feedback on these documents. Members of the Transhumanist Party will then have the option to consider including some of the ideas arising in new versions of the policy documents.

Note: to join the UK Transhumanist Party, or to make a donation to support the work it is carrying out, see this link.

4. Refreshing the Transpolitica Manifesto

Recent expressions of the ideas in the Transpolitica Manifesto, for example at the recent launch event in London, have moved beyond the language currently on the Transpolitica website. For example, the online manifesto has eight headlines, whereas this (newer) diagram shows ten:

The Transpolitica manifesto summarisedThe online manifesto needs refreshing. In parallel, the ideas in the manifesto could usefully feature in new graphics and/or video resources:

  • We need combinations of imagery and wording, which, once published, will hopefully be widely copied across social media, on account of their mix of graphic appeal and verbal appeal
  • We also need videos that take these ideas from a static display into something more dynamic.

Transpolitica News: Getting started

A great deal has happened in the ten days since the soft launch of Transpolitica. Here’s the first of what will become a series of updates on Transpolitica progress.

Note: to receive these news updates directly into your email inbox, visit this page online at https://transpolitica.org/news/ and click the “Follow” button that appears at the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

Manifesto

After an initial flurry of changes, the Transpolitica Manifesto has now been relatively stable for about a week. This manifesto sets out core ideas for policy changes:

Transpolitica calls upon politicians of all parties to define and support:

  • Regenerative projects to take full advantage of accelerating technology.

More specifically, we call for:

  • Economic and personal liberation via the longevity dividend
  • An inclusive new social contract in the light of technological disruption
  • A proactionary regulatory system to fast-track innovative breakthroughs
  • Reform of democratic processes with new digital tools
  • Education transformed in readiness for a radically different future
  • A progressive transhumanist rights agenda
  • An affirmative new perspective on existential risks.

These Headlines are preceded in the manifesto by a Preamble, and all eight Headlines are backed up by the provision of further Details.

The Transpolitica Manifesto drew inspiration from the Technoprogressive Declaration that was published in November 2014 following the TransVision 2014 conference in Paris. In turn, our Manifesto has helped to inspire a number of other political statements, including:

In parallel, the Transhumanist Party (UK) is working on its own set of Transhumanist Party Principles.

There’s an opportunity to improve the contents of the Transpolitica Manifesto in the light of the good examples provided as these other documents develop.

Another important step forward will be when the Transpolitica Manifesto is turned into one or more videos, in order to reach a wider audience.

FAQ

The Transpolitica Manifesto is backed up by a FAQ. The FAQ remains a work-in-progress. If anyone would like to propose changes or additions to the FAQ, please get in touch.

How to get involved in Transpolitica projects

The Transpolitica Projects page lists:

  • A set of tasks awaiting volunteers
  • Suggestions for how to discuss your ideas with other Transpolitica supporters.

Book project

The project which currently has the most activity is to publish our first book of essays:

Transpolitica invites political thinkers, futurists, and transhumanists from around the world to become involved in a project to publish a book entitled “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”.

This project is looking for chapter authors, reviewers, editors, and graphic designers.

Since the call was issued for people to submit proposals for chapters:

  • One complete chapter has already been submitted, in a publication-ready state
  • Seven other authors have submitted abstracts (formal or informal) that have been approved to go forwards to the writing stage
  • Six more people may be submitting abstracts (or revised abstracts) shortly – we await further information
  • A small number of initial author submissions have been declined, sorry, though these authors are welcome to re-submit proposals taking account of the feedback.

The stated deadline for submitting chapter abstracts (just a few sentences will suffice) is the end of January. Some submissions may be accepted after that cut-off, though the later authors leave things, the harder the hurdle they will have to overcome.

In all cases, complete publication-ready material for the chapter needs to be in the hands of the Transpolitica team by the end of February.

If anyone would like to join the team that reviews submissions, proposes edits (if needed), suggests changes to layout and graphics, etc, please make contact. (And see below for suggestions for the book cover.)

Asking the right questions

Reflections about Transpolitica – especially in the light of ideas for book chapters – show that we’re not yet in a position to advocate detailed policy recommendations. We don’t have all the answers, so far.

Over time, detailed policy recommendations will emerge. But for now, what we can – and should – do, is the following:

  • Highlight future scenarios, that deserve more consideration
  • Ask the key questions, that will transform contemporary political debate.

It is our insight as transhumanists and radical futurists that gives us the collective ability to do both of these things. In this way, we can make a cosmic dent in the political process.

Social media

What’s your favourite social media? Transpolitica online presence is growing:

On LinkedIn, there’s already been a small discussion about Transpolitica in response to a blogpost there. Transpolitica also exists as a company on LinkedIn – it’s listed as a “think tank”. See https://www.linkedin.com/company/9267587. If you’re one of the people listed on the (forthcoming) Transpolitica website page “Consultants, writers, and researchers”, feel free to add an item to your LinkedIn entry for your affiliation with Transpolitica.

Consultants, writers, and researchers

The co-founding team for Transpolitica will be announced shortly.

If you are interested in becoming involved, introduce yourself on the Transpolitica mailing group, stating what you would like to contribute to Transpolitica.

Alternatively, send an email to the Transpolitica programme management team.

Note: in the start-up phase, Transpolitica is operating with zero cash-flow, and all positions are voluntary.

The following list gathers some criteria for people to be considered as a named consultant, writer, or researcher for Transpolitica:

  1. Track record of producing interesting, well-researched material
  2. Able to finish agreed projects within agreed deadlines
  3. Strong public support in favour of transhumanist ideals
  4. Responsive to changing circumstances – practices agile working methods
  5. Doesn’t need a complex support infrastructure – practices lean working methods
  6. Able to disagree with people in a respectful, constructive way, rather than resorting to abuse
  7. Avoids publishing material that is likely to damage the good name of Transpolitica.

Note: people can use aliases for their Transpolitica persona, if they have good reasons to avoid using their official names.

Applications are welcomed from people with all political allegiances (or none), all religious backgrounds (or none), all employment and education backgrounds (or none), all parts of the world, and all ages and genders, etc.

Transpolitica decision-making

How should decisions be made inside Transpolitica? How can we “be the change we want to see”, taking advantage of the latest technology to practise better collaborative decision-making?

We’re currently experimenting with the online tool Loomio. To quote from https://www.loomio.org/about:

Loomio emerged when activists from the Occupy movement teamed up with the social enterprise network Enspiral, realising that they were using different approaches to work towards the same aim.

Loomio is being built by a core team in Wellington, New Zealand, and a wider network of friends and supporters all over the world.

Loomio organises decisions into “Discussions”. These discussions start off with context and a loose brainstorming give-and-take. Once someone has a firm proposal in mind, they click the “Create a proposal” button, and give the group a fixed amount of time to vote on it. (48 hours seems sufficient.) By design, each discussion can only have one live proposal at any one time. That can seem counter-intuitive, but it turns out to have its own merits.

It’s too early to tell whether Transpolitica will keep on using Loomio. Our experiences with it, so far, have not been decisive, one way or the other. There are many other tools we could trial, as alternatives – each with their own apparent pluses and minuses.

In the meantime, there’s a new Discussion on the Loomio board – “Book cover”. To view that discussion, and to contribute to it, you’ll need to:

  1. Create a Loomio account for yourself (if you don’t have one already)
  2. Request permission to join the Transpolitica group on Loomio.

(If you click on the above link, “Book cover”, Loomio should walk you through the process automatically.)

Hangouts-on-Air

Another Transpolitica initiative is to host online video discussions relevant to the future of politics. People can view these discussions live (and ask questions to the panelists), or can catch up with the recordings afterwards. Two forthcoming events are as follows:

If you visit the corresponding Google+ event pages and RSVP ‘Yes’, Google will send you a reminder to join it.

Let us know which topics (and which participants) it would be good to feature in future Transpolitica Hangouts-on-Air.