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 – The best questions

At the Transpolitica 2016 event on 3rd December (preview | schedule | registration), we’ll be trialling a new system for collecting and prioritising audience questions for the speakers.

The system is called Glisser. For each talk at Transpolitica 2016, audience members will be able to visit a page in their web browser and:

  • Type in short questions for the presenter, based on what the presenter has said
  • Selectively upvote the questions raised by other audience members.

Convenient URL shortcodes for each presentation will be made available to the attendees of the conference. These URLs all start as glsr.it/…

Note: Glisser can be used from smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

The event chair will be keeping an eye on the incoming questions, and will prioritise asking the presenter the questions with the most upvotes.

The entire set of questions will be downloaded after the event, and used as the starting point for possible new projects by Transpolitica and/or London Futurists.

In this way, we’ll be “practising what we preach”, and using technology to help identify, highlight, and preserve the best of our collective thinking!

Usage snapshot

Here’s a snapshot envisioning user input as the first main talk is proceeding:

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This shows that two questions have been posed so far – one with two upvotes, and the other with just one (so far).

In the browser, you can press the Question Mark icon and type in your question. (Hint: keep it short! And keep it civil…) Feel free to add your name at the end of the question, if you’d like to be publicly identified as the originator of the question.

You can also click on the various ‘Hand’ icons to upvote an existing question.

Press the big “Up arrow” slider to get into a screen where you can alter the order in which the questions are listed:

  • With the most recent questions at the top, or
  • With the most popular questions at the top.

Press the resulting big “Down arrow” slider to get back to the main screen listing.

To move from one presentation to another, enter the new URL shortcode in the browser address bar. (Attendees will be sent the full set of URLs ahead of the event, and these will also be available at the venue.)

You are welcome to trial the system before you arrive at the venue, so you can learn how it works. By all means post some “test questions”, and practice upvoting. Before the event actually starts, the test questions will be purged from the system, so there’s a fresh start once people are listening to what the speakers actually say.

FAQ on using Glisser

Q1: Glisser has lots of other features, beyond audience Q&A. Why aren’t these being used on this occasion?

A1: We’re taking one step at a time!

Q2: Aren’t “old style” spoken questions more authentic and insightful than questions typed into a small browser screen?

A2: Perhaps so. However, this event has a full agenda, with little buffer time. There won’t be an opportunity to pass a microphone around many different people in the audience, to give them all a chance to ask questions, sorry. Instead, with Glisser, there’s a greater opportunity for the best questions from the audience to be heard – where “best” is as judged by the audience as a whole. Moreover, Glisser allows a greater number of questions to be recorded, for future review by speakers.

Q3: Will there be sufficient wireless network bandwidth in the room to cope with 100+ simultaneous users?

A3: Since the event is being held in a basement room, cellular connectivity may be hit-and-miss. Therefore we’re paying the venue to provide wifi access. Details of how to access the wifi are given on the meetup page for the event and will also be availble at the check-in desk at the venue. The organisers ask that attendees refrain from video downloads or uploads over this network, to preserve bandwidth for the Glisser voting functionality. Thanks in advance!

Q4: Why does Glisser ask for an email address when users first visit one of the presentation pages? Will this email address be used for marketing purposes?

A4: No! The email addresses are listed on the admin pages alongside each question, in principle allowing the event organisers to email longer answers to questioners after the event has finished. However, London Futurists and Transpolitica will not be contacting any of the attendees in this way. And Glisser emphasise they won’t be using these email addresses for any purposes of their own.

Q5: Do users need to use a real email address when connecting to the system?

A5: No! If you wish to protect your privacy, by all means invent a fictitious email address when signing in. No two-stage validation takes place.

Q6: Why does Glisser keep warning users that “Changes that you made may not be saved” and ask “Do you want to leave this site”?

A6: Glisser seems to be overly trigger happy with such warnings. Since it seems to save questions to the cloud almost immediately (provided there’s a good network connection), you can mainly ignore these warnings.

Q7: Can users change their mind and downvote a question they have previously upvoted?

A7: That functionality seems not to be available. So exercise some discretion in picking which questions are really your favourites!

Transpolitica 2016 – Previews

This video previews the contents of Transpolitica 2016:

It’s less than four minutes long, but it covers all fifteen of the speakers who are lined up to give TED-style talks over the course of the day.

After you take the time to watch the video, you can register to attend the event by clicking here for the meetup page.

Snapshots from the video

The following pictures are taken from the movie.

Chair’s opening remarks (9.45-10.00)

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Regulations, health, and transformation (10.00-12.00)

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Politics, tools, and transformation (13:30-15:15)

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Society, data, and transformation (15.45-17.30)

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More details about the conference

  • To register for this event, see this meetup page
  • For the agenda, and more details about the event, see here.

Project for a Progressive Ethics

By Dil Green

A proposal for progress

Engaging in events and conversations around the themes of Artificial Intelligence, Trans/Post-humanism, Singularity scenarios and Digital Futurism, all sorts of questions arise which involve consideration of unknowns, suppositions, assertions and opinions. Despite these layers of unknowns, it is nevertheless clear that society will soon need to make some serious decisions on a wide variety of issues. The outcome of these decisions is likely to have significant recursive impact on the very nature of humanity.

cascade

Discussing these questions, the thought arises that the single most important tool we need in making these decisions is a robust ethical framework – namely, a framework which is widely shared and which is ‘fit for purpose’ in addressing change and uncertainty.

This is not an original insight – it seems to be commonplace. Eliezer Yudkowsky has been informally quoted as having said that,

Humanity will most probably be saved not by technologists but by philosophers.

However, what this ethical framework might actually be is typically assumed to be the responsibility of others, in some unspecified future.

Given that many commentators in varied fields subscribe to the idea that we are in a period of exponential change, one or more of these epochal phenomena will likely impinge on us in the next few decades, and so development of a useful ethical framework would seem to be an urgent undertaking. It is surely incumbent on individuals and groups who have reached this conclusion, not simply to ‘kick the can down the road’.

The time to start work is now.

A Progressive Ethics?

Of course, there already exist many and varied statements on ethics: the work of great philosophers, international declarations, legal frameworks, proposals in profusion. Why would we want yet another?

For a start, most are framed as static documents, closed to implications of rapid change; implicitly or explicitly, most have been developed in reaction to historical conditions, rather than with an eye to the future, and are set within frames of reference of a particular philosopher, tradition or class consciousness.

Clearly, existing frameworks will be important reference material, embodying as they do the best-intentioned thoughts of humanity over history. These, along with work by groups like the IEET and others within the futurist / progressive community, and the established practice of ethical committees within scientific, academic and medical establishments, must all be given serious consideration. However, it does not seem that any of these sources alone are immediately suitable for our purpose as they stand.

This proposal purposefully avoids any suggestion as to the content of a Progressive Ethics. Instead, the aim here is to start the ball rolling and to make some suggestions for a process and structure to support such a project, designed to allow it to meet the aim of being truly progressive, robust, practically useful and widely-accepted.

What do we need?

The proposal is that a Progressive Ethics is developed which can be of use to humanity in navigating the wide range of novel possibilities which must now be admitted as having the potential for significant impact on real futures (possibilities previously confined to the pages of speculative fiction).

Such a framework should help us to have better conversations – minimising the traps of misunderstanding and misrepresentation and enabling debate at ever higher levels based on clear shared understandings – even if these are understandings of disagreement.

We want this framework to be of practical use in deciding and implementing questions such as:

  • The development of reliably ‘friendly’ AI
  • The social management of a wide variety of technically possible modifications to strict biological life.
  • The implications of augmented humanity / transhumanism.
  • Effective and responsive approaches to inherently complex subjects such as human impact on the biosphere.

Suggestions for a start

These ideas are intended to start a debate about how such a project might get started, how it might be structured, how it might frame itself, and how it might best ensure that it remains relevant and responsive.

I suggest that we:

  • Frame the effort as the initiation of a process – a process that will continue to respond to new developments in knowledge, technology and culture. This must include the guaranteed provision (and expectation) that ‘forks’ of the project are permitted;
  • Set the fundamental aims of the project from the outset, and look to enshrining these in the foundational constitution of the body charged with maintaining and supporting the project;
  • Look for a structure for representing / communicating the framework which:
    • is not overly reductive, but remains rigorously rational,
    • strikes the most effective balance between clarity and simplicity on the one hand, and appropriate flexibility of application on the other,
    • supports the process-based approach without introducing undue ambiguity,
  • Design the process from the outset to be one which enables broad engagement without loss of focus – this will mean selecting appropriate democratic structures for the core body alongside processes for concentric levels of engagement to wider audiences.

All of these suggestions need elaboration, but the key aim of this post is to generate interest from people willing to take the fundamental idea of such a project forwards.

Get involved HERE (Transpolitica) or HERE (H+Pedia).

2016prismayelo150About the author

Dil Green trained and worked as an architect. Notable projects include the Wellcome Wing at the Science Museum and a pioneering eco-friendly GP surgery.

The heroic self-image of architecture as the profession that actually builds a better future appealed to him, as a pragmatic utopian – someone who believes in working today towards a better tomorrow. However the strong limitations of the discipline quickly became apparent to him.

Since the advent of the web and smart devices, it has become increasingly clear that, for good or ill, the future will be built on the basis of digital tools. More, the kind of future that will be built is critically dependent on which particular tools become dominant.

His energies now go towards building digital tools and the social understanding around them that lead to the most positive outcomes for humanity that he can discern. He is interested in grass-roots, bottom-up developments, ones which can side-step power structures, ones which diminish the need for ‘approval’ from above, ones which empower humans acting in small groups towards human ends.

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:

transpolitica-2016-speakers-v4

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.

clore-management-centre

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.

Transpolitica 2016 – call for submissions

Transpolitica plans to hold a one-day conference in central London on Saturday 3rd December 2016 (10am-5pm).

(Update: see here for the latest plans for Transpolitica 2016, and how to register to attend.)

The theme of the conference is “Real world policy changes for a radically better future“.

Transpolitica 2016

The goal of the conference is to formulate and review policy recommendations which could 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.

The conference invites submissions from people interested in presenting TED-style thought leadership presentations at the event. These presentations should last 15-20 minutes and should convey key practical thoughts to stimulate group discussion during a Q&A period after the talk.

Suggested topics include:

  • Transitional steps towards Universal Basic Income
  • Alternative responses to the possibility of Technological Unemployment
  • Legal support for self-experimentation with nootropics
  • The political future of genetic enhancements
  • Policy changes that encourage quicker development of anti-aging therapies
  • Improvements to how finance works
  • Improvements to democracy and decision-making
  • Policy changes regarding surveillance, privacy, and data ownership
  • Support for radical decentralisation: cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and more
  • The role of politics in accelerating science and innovation
  • The role of politics in responding to existential risks
  • Beyond national sovereignty: The evolution of transnational governance

If you’re interested in submitting a proposal to speak, or have any other suggestion about the event, please email the event organisers – the sooner, the better – ideally by 11th September (so that the agenda can be publicised in good time).

Notes:

  • The date of 3rd December is currently the strong favourite, but might be changed (one week in either direction) if any clashing events become known to the organisers over the next few days
  • Although the event is held in London, speakers are welcome to propose changes to politics happening anywhere in the world
  • The organisers welcome suggestions for logos, graphics, banners, or other publicity material to help spread word about Transpolitica 2016.

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.

American Amnesia_1280

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.

Butterfly_1920

Article by David W. Wood, Executive Director, Transpolita

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

Anticipating better democracy

Democracy is one of the great triumphs of civilisation. But the way democracy is practised, in the UK and in the wider world, leaves a great deal of room for improvement.

In short, recent events show the risks of populism, which is a perversion of democracy.

Can we improve democracy, so that it avoids the siren allure of populism? Can we take steps so that the best insights of the entire population rise to the top of political discussion, rather than being buried in a sea of confusion, rumour, innuendo, and downright lie?

In an age with increasingly rapid communications, and with growing alienation of large parts of society, these questions are pressing. This article is the first in an envisaged Transpolitica series, “Anticipating better democracy”, that tries to catalyse some answers.

There’s more to democracy than majority decision-making

Democracy is a system where the majority decides. It’s where leaders need the approval of the citizenry. But it’s not mob rule.

Democracy allows the majority to appoint leaders. But it does not permit the majority to ride roughshod over the opinions of the minority. It avoids placing absolute power into the hands of the winning coalition. The minority have important rights too.

Democracy enables political disagreements to be handled by discussion rather than by physical force. It avoids the powerful retaining power simply via their ability to summon armies and command the police. It allows the citizenry to vote leaders out of office, once these leaders no longer have sufficient popular support. Democracy therefore addresses the dangerous human trait in which people who have risen to a position of power tend to become overly confident in their own abilities, surround themselves by yes men, veer towards autocracy, and brook no dissent. Done right, democracy allows the opposition to speak truth to power.

To be clear, democracy is more than the simple fact of an election. Democracy is about the climate that prevails, both in the run-up to an election, and in its aftermath.

A democratic transition

To avoid a region descending into chaos after an election takes place, democracy requires the loser of an election to swallow hard, congratulate the victor, and to stop contesting the result.

John McCain concession speech

For example, when John McCain realised in the early morning of 5 November 2008 that he had lost the US Presidential election to Barack Obama, he called upon his own supporters to recognise that Obama was a good man:

My friends, we have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly. A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Sen. Barack Obama — to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love.

In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans, who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president, is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving…

Sen. Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country. I applaud him for it, and offer my sincere sympathy that his beloved grandmother did not live to see this day — though our faith assures us she is at rest in the presence of her Creator and so very proud of the good man she helped raise.

Sen. Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed. No doubt many of those differences remain. These are difficult times for our country, and I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.

I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited…

Some of his supporters booed, on hearing these words, but McCain proceeded:

Tonight — tonight, more than any night, I hold in my heart nothing but love for this country and for all its citizens, whether they supported me or Sen. Obama. I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.

Nevertheless, whilst a democratic decision provides a milestone landmark, it’s not necessarily the end of the journey. The party that lost an election does not vanish into nonexistence. There is no iron law of democracy that says a losing party must give up its ideological understanding once the voters have spoken against it. Instead, it can regroup, and be ready to offer a renewed understanding to the electorate in the changed circumstances of the future.

Changing circumstances

In some cases, it may not take long for circumstances to change. This is especially the case when a democratic decision has taken place in a particularly confusing environment, and where greater clarity emerges soon after the vote has taken place. In such a case, the voters may justifiably feel angry about being deceived by the way the campaign was conducted.

In this article, I’ll avoid focusing too closely on the contentious circumstances of the recent EU exit vote in the United Kingdom. Opinions clearly differ, forcibly, on that score. I’ll just note in passing that even Kelvin Mackenzie, former long-time editor of the right-wing Sun tabloid newspaper, has expressed his own “buyer’s remorse” for voting for the UK to leave the EU (despite having previously campaigned hard for that outcome).

Kelvin MacKenzie remorse

Circumstances are changing fast.

But let’s concentrate, for now, on some steps that might be taken to improve the calibre of democratic decision-making – steps that might avoid future examples of widespread voter regret (and major voter distress). I’ll consider two suggestions.

Holding politicians to account?

The Advertising Standards Authority has firm rules about the kinds of claims that companies can make in their advertisements. Thank goodness.

But no such rules apply to the claims that politicians make, in their campaigns. Columnist Alan Travis observes as follows, in his recent article “The leave campaign made three key promises – are they keeping them?”

While legal action can follow in the case of a commercial contract or the public flotation of a company if false statements are made in, there is no advertising code that requires political statements to be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”.

It’s tempting to ask: Why not?

If politicians knowingly bend the truth, in ways that wouldn’t be allowed in commercial communications, and major financial damage results, shouldn’t they be sued as a result?

However, I see this as potentially dangerous ground. The threat of being sued could clamp down on free speech.

To make this work, the emphasis would have to be on evidence that the politician definitely knew their claims were wrong, but went ahead with them regardless.

Before we get to that point, we can accelerate an important recent political trend. That’s the trend of improved, quicker fact-checking.

Fact-checking politicians’ claims

One of the most impressive organisations I’ve encountered recently is Full Fact – which describes itself as “the UK’s independent factchecking organisation”.

Full Fact Logo

Their website continues:

We check claims made by politicians, the media, pressure groups, and other voices in public debate, and push for corrections where necessary. We also work with government departments and academic research institutions to improve the quality and communication of technical information at source, and campaign for greater transparency in the public arena.

We don’t support any view or political party. Our mission is to improve the quality of public debate, and to equip the public with the best information possible to make up their own minds. We provide links to all our sources so that you don’t have to take our word for anything – you can also check for yourself.

Our commitment to transparency extends to our funding…

In a profile article, the Financial Times gave a couple of examples of claims checked by Full Fact:

Leave’s claim that Britain sent £350m a week to the EU was “wrong” because it ignored the UK budget rebate, it found. The CBI’s claim that membership was worth £3,000 a year to every household was “not credible”; and so on…

In other words, claims on both sides of the debate were found wanting.

Full Fact have accomplished a great deal with only a skeleton team. But with more support (including volunteers, funding, and other resources) there’s much more that can be accomplished.

Of course, much political debate happens in dimensions removed from facts. And facts are often capable of multiple interpretations. So fact-checking, by itself, won’t cure all the shortcomings of our present-day practice of democracy.

But we can anticipate the growth of a fact-checking culture, with the following positive outcomes:

  1. Everyone will come to expect that claims made by politicians are routinely, quickly checked
  2. Alongside phrases like “Google this”, which are already commonplace, we’ll more often hear phrases like “Fact check this”
  3. Politicians who make claims that violate independent fact-checking will be treated as pariahs. (There probably won’t be a need to sue them in courts of law for their wilful misstatements. They will, rightly, fall foul of the court of public reputation.)
  4. Newspapers that make claims that violate independent fact-checking will, likewise, become pariahs.

Fact check true or false

If only…

If that kind of culture had been in place in the past, the misstatements of a certain leading UK politician, from his days as a newspaper journalist covering EU affairs from Brussels, would not have gone unpunished. And the UK may well not have come near its present political crisis. I’m referring to Boris Johnson. As stated by his former journalist colleague Martin Fletcher,

For 25 years our press has fed the British public a diet of distorted, mendacious and relentlessly hostile stories about the EU – and the journalist who set the tone was Boris Johnson.

I know this because I was appointed Brussels correspondent of The Times in 1999, a few years after Johnson’s stint there for The Telegraph, and I had to live with the consequences.

Johnson, sacked by The Times in 1988 for fabricating a quote, made his mark in Brussels not through fair and balanced reporting, but through extreme euro-scepticism. He seized every chance to mock or denigrate the EU, filing stories that were undoubtedly colourful but also grotesquely exaggerated or completely untrue.

The Telegraph loved it. So did the Tory Right. Johnson later confessed: ‘Everything I wrote from Brussels, I found was sort of chucking these rocks over the garden wall and I listened to this amazing crash from the greenhouse next door over in England as everything I wrote from Brussels was having this amazing, explosive effect on the Tory party, and it really gave me this I suppose rather weird sense of power.’

Next steps

Will this cultural change be sufficient to fix the current ails of democracy? Of course not. But it’s an important step in the right direction.

Transpolitica plans to publish more articles on anticipating better democracy. If you’d like to submit a contribution, please get in touch.

Artificial Intelligence in the UK: Risks and Rewards

AKThe following report was created by Transpolitica senior consultant Alexander Karran in response to the ongoing inquiry into robotics and artificial intelligence by the UK parliament’s Science and Technology Committee.

The report was submitted on behalf of Transpolitica, to address the topics listed on the Science and Technology Committee inquiry page:

  • The implications of robotics and artificial intelligence on the future UK workforce and job market, and the Government’s preparation for the shift in the UK skills base and training that this may require.
  • The extent to which social and economic opportunities provided by emerging autonomous systems and artificial intelligence technologies are being exploited to deliver benefits to the UK.
  • The extent to which the funding, research and innovation landscape facilitates the UK maintaining a position at the forefront of these technologies, and what measures the Government should take to assist further in these areas.
  • The social, legal and ethical issues raised by developments in robotics and artificial intelligence technologies, and how they should be addressed.

The author thanks members of Transpolitica and the Transhumanist Party UK for their feedback on previous drafts of this report.

Note: click here to access the entire set of submissions accepted by the Science and Technology Committee.

Robotic handshake

Executive Summary

This briefing introduces Artificial Intelligence (A.I) as it is applied in industry today, and outlines what the United Kingdom can do to take full advantage of the technology. The briefing covers four areas the Implications of robotics and artificial intelligence for the UK, gaining and maintaining primacy in A.I technologies, the social and economic opportunities afforded by A.I technologies and issues in developing robotic and artificial intelligence technologies.

  • A.I is fast becoming an integral part of everyday life. In the coming decades, its integration into the digital ecosystem will be such that almost all technology will have an “intelligent” component.
  • Advances in A.I, robotics, technology and the sciences are approaching an exponential curve due to convergence and driven by information technologies.
  • A.I, robotics and automated processes are highly likely to displace vast amounts of the labour force within the next two decades, potentially 15 million jobs are amenable to automation, by either robotics or software, and cover an ever-broadening range of occupations.
  • Changes in the distribution of the capital-labour ratio will lead to a hollowing out of low, mid and high skill workers.
  • Re-deployment to the work force after a period of re-education and skill improvement may not be possible due to the increased pace of change, requiring a radical rethink of what it means to learn and work in a rapidly evolving digital economy.
  • A basic income should be investigated to offset the reduction in employment opportunities allowing for greater social mobility, a basic standard of living and reduced perception of inequality.
  • There needs to be a radical reform of the national curriculum and educational system to focus above all else on the creative use of technology from an early age, potentially as early as year two and becoming more intensive by year twelve.
  • A.I technologies can be used in the education system to improve the delivery of materials, subject matter and acceptance of A.I. The integration of A.I tools into education is not something that needs to be developed from first principles, but can draw upon the existing field of A.I.Ed
  • Educating citizens at all levels of society about the effects of A.I upon the UK will prove to be the biggest challenge, if the UK is to gain primacy in this area.
  • Defence applications of A.I, robotics and automation require serious consideration and rapid development if the UK government is to vouchsafe its citizens and allies. However, there are ethical and moral considerations and boundaries to be reflected upon.
  • If the UK can respond fast enough and commit to investing in education, digital infrastructure and redeployment of research funding, then coupled with existing industrial and research frameworks the UK is well placed to reap the benefits of becoming a leading player in the A.I domain.

1.    Introduction

  1. Not since the dawn of the industrial revolution in 1750 has there been a period in history that has so radically altered society, economic growth and technological development. Since the start of this revolution, there has been a rapid but linear pattern of growth and development resulting in three distinct eras. The first era was the industrial revolution (mid-18th century), the second was the period of mass industrialisation (mid-19th century), which has now slowed and the third is the Information Technology (I.T) revolution which began in the latter half of the 20th The I.T revolution however, has broken this trend of linear progress and set in motion a period of exponential growth and development. This new revolution, which comes fast on the heels of the previous one, has been termed the fourth industrial revolution[1] or the second machine age[2].
  2. Thus far, this new “digital age” has been characterised by wide adoption of the internet and the creation of so called “cyber-physical” systems -replacing traditional infrastructure with digital technologies- and by convergence, in which the reliance and co-dependence on data driven processes provided by information technologies, is blurring the traditional divisions between scientific and industrial domains. This co-dependence is accelerating scientific and industrial progress in many areas, such as genetic engineering, regenerative medicine and automation driven by advances in robotics and algorithmic control or Artificial Intelligence (A.I).
  3. Advances in A.I have arguably been the principal technology contributing to current progress and one that is evolving in near real-time. A.I is set to become the most advanced technological tool developed by man, since the discovery and use of fire. There are many definitions of artificial intelligence, such as Machine Consciousness, Narrow Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Strong Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence. However, for the purposes of this briefing, the focus is upon narrow artificial intelligence applications as these are currently heading into mainstream deployment.
  4. A.I loosely defined, is a set of statistical tools and algorithms that combine to form, in part, intelligent software that specializes in a single area or task. This type of software is an evolving assemblage of technologies that enable computers to simulate elements of Human behaviour such as learning, reasoning and classification. Some examples of A.I include classification algorithms, used to classify images on social media platforms, text mining algorithms and junk email identification to more complex examples used in computational biology and drug discovery, social network analysis, human gameplay and healthcare analytics (such as Google Deepmind and IBM Watson).
  5. In this briefing, we will outline the connotative potential of A.I as a tool to effect radical social change, financial stability and growth and an enhancement or declension of human existence. Our aim is to rationally consider the negative implications of A.I based on available evidence and opinion, while at the same time emphasising the benefits of the technology when ethically applied so that every UK citizen can be given the opportunity to live better than well, which is our mandate.

2.    Implications of robotics and artificial intelligence on the future UK

  1. If the 1st industrial revolution was characterised as a race between technology, labour and education, the 4th may well be categorised as a race against technology that replaces both brains and brawn. This next race has serious implications for education, especially given the current plans to replace state schools with a broad, enforceable national curriculum, with academies that focus on education as product. However, the greatest area of impact will be upon employment, recent research completed by the Bank of England[3] amongst others[4] shows that up to a third (potentially 15 million) of jobs are amenable to automation, by either robotics or software and cover an ever-broadening range of occupations.
  2. The eventual effect of automation will be the creation of an “autonomous economy[5]” in which digital processes talk to other digital processes and synergise to create new processes; this will allow industries to employ fewer workers, yet complete more work. Traditional trend mappings of the economic landscape (i.e. Neo-Capitalism) point to a trend in which, as the automation of labour increase so too does job creation (after an initial period of rapid falloff and recovery). However, there is now a growing body of evidence to suggest that this time things will be both quantitatively and qualitatively different[6], and that this difference is due to wider applications of Moores Law, beyond electronics to machine learning and information science. This new trend presents as an exponential growth curve that will see automation applied beyond physical labour to more cognitive labour[7].
  3. As this trend manifests over the coming decades it will lead to a radical redistribution of the capital-labour ratio by adding a new vector, that of the robot, forever changing the distribution of resources amongst the various strata of society. In certain occupational domains, human labour is likely to continue for technical, economic and ethical reasons. On a technical level, machines today remain inferior to humans at jobs involving creative, highly flexible or affective work and those tasks that rely on tacit rather than explicit knowledge. It may be that it is simply not economically feasible to replace workers in these areas, or ethical as in the case of those providing secondary, tertiary health or palliative care.
  4. The coming changes will lead to a hollowing out of low, mid and high skill workers, who would (based upon previous models) re-deploy to the work force after a period of re-education and skill improvement. However, in the new digital ecosystem, re-education will only take an individual so far, as their ability to adapt to rapid advancements decreases with the increased pace of change. This will require a radical rethink of what it means to learn and work in a rapidly evolving digital economy.
  5. Providing education and income to citizens who have or are likely to lose employment due to automation will prove to be one of the greatest challenges in the decades ahead. To address this challenge and help manage the social and economic impacts, government should engage with the public in open conversation and wide media outreach about the likely impact of A.I. Answering key questions such as how will the nature of work change? What types of jobs are likely to be automated? If there is no work, how will I support myself or my family? What can I do to find work? What will there be for my children? Such answers as provided need to be unambiguous and clear-cut and guide the public towards those industries with less probability of automation and towards education and skills training.
  6. In addition to the implications for the economy, employment, and education, serious consideration needs to be given to the military applications of this technology, in both a global and domestic context. These considerations need to take into account defensive, offensive, automated and autonomous perspectives. International debate is already fuelling calls for a prohibition on the deployment of autonomous systems in the theatre of war on ethical grounds (Red Cross[8], Human Rights Watch[9]). The HRW stated a position with some merit:

 “A requirement to maintain human control over the use of weapons would eliminate many of the problems associated with fully autonomous weapons. Such a requirement would protect the dignity of human life, facilitate compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, and promote accountability for unlawful acts”

  1. However, given the changing definition of warfare in the modern digital age, “fully autonomous weapons” in this context may not take into account “software as a weapon”. This was demonstrated by the Stuxnet[10] malware deployment, which highlighted a radical shift from “traditional” warfare and hacking to cyber-physical attack engineering, and this form of attack will only increase in frequency[11] and sophistication as our technologies and infrastructure systems become smarter. Therefore, the debate must be expanded beyond battlefield deployment, to include a review of autonomous systems deployed at all points within the digital ecosystem.

3.    Gaining and maintaining primacy in A.I technologies

  1. In order to gain and maintain leadership in the application and development of A.I technologies the UK must concentrate its efforts to varying degrees in three areas, education, research and industry. The area requiring the highest degree of effort, but potential maximum return will be education. There needs to be a radical reform of the national curriculum that focuses above all else on the creative use of technology from an early age, potentially as early as year two and becoming more intensive by year twelve. In addition to performing “traditional” learning tasks such as reading and writing, technology should be integrated as an additional support tool, allowing other cognitive tasks such as mathematics and the sciences to be reconceptualised to support the step changes in learner outcomes that are required for modern life and the digital workplace.
  2. Traditional educational practice has thus far focused on developing core cognitive competencies, such as reading, writing and arithmetic with very little variation in how these are taught and applied beyond the education environment. Current and in-development A.I technologies shows that machines are already making significant strides towards mastery in all of these areas and it our conclusion that creativity should be added to this set of core competencies, a conclusion already supported by others[12]. Arguably creativity, in the digital workplace, can be defined as the ability to ask questions using advanced intelligent technology and utilise the answers to create novel solutions to present and future problems, as such, a superior proficiency in data analysis to produce insights and apply solutions will be a much sought after skill-set in the coming decades.
  3. Technology and A.I can serve a dual purpose in a reformed educational system by being both the facilitator of high quality learner experiences and the subject of those experiences. If in the UK, we could teach the creative use, support and understanding of A.I and information technologies from an early age, we could potentially create a generation of thought leaders and expert practitioners, with the foresight to fully utilise the potential of A.I both at home and abroad in many industrial domains. However, to achieve this, the educational system would need to foster an environment that encourages critical thinking, rational decision making and multidisciplinary approaches to increase creativity and a learner’s ability to synergise knowledge from disparate sources.
  4. The integration of A.I into education is not something that needs to be developed from first principles, but rather something that needs only draw from the existing field of A.I.Ed[13], a field of research already rich with methods and technologies which given opportunity, funding and study for feasibility could be rapidly deployed. This integration could feed into the current government’s plans for academy style schools, with a call for “match fund” proposals that blend A.I.Ed into current teaching practice and change the classroom environment from one that has barely changed in a century into something representative of modern digital life. This has the potential to rapidly evolve the education ecosystem, as incorporating machine learning into teaching and learning styles, would present an innovative “learning” environment that supports the learner, teacher and the A.I system as it learns how best to serve each learner individually according to their needs, providing a level of personalisation heretofore unknown in teaching practice.
  5. While high quality education concerning A.I technologies is needed at all levels of society, if A.I is to be embraced openly and incorporated fully as part of UK infrastructure, a positive feedback cycle needs to be created between citizens, education, industry and government. If initiated effectively this feedback cycle will fuel growth over and above standard measures of GDP, to include: education as product; innovation and entrepreneurship as a commodity to be shared strategically with allies; digital information infrastructure as a service; and if information security policy interactions are non-repressive, cybersecurity services. Furthermore, if A.I technology development is regulated using a light but firm touch, such a feedback loop allows for both secular development and global participation, providing opportunity for the UK to take global leadership in the development, application and commercial exploitation of A.I technologies.

4.    Social and economic opportunities

  1. The number of social and economic opportunities afforded by developing A.I technologies is practically limitless. The development and broad acceptance of the technology within all levels society will lead to advancements in many disparate fields, from healthcare and healthcare provision; critical infrastructure management and resilience; to decision support tools and forensic process automation. For example, advancements in the field of medicine and biology due to the application of current A.I have been truly revolutionary. A.I has allowed the tremendous amounts of data used in research to be analysed faster than ever before. Future developments in A.I, will further increase the pace of medical discoveries, and lifesaving medical interventions, accelerating discoveries in DNA mapping, drug discovery, genetic modification and synthetic biology, propelling the biological sciences to a whole new level.
  2. The UK as world leaders in synthetic biology and the biological sciences, is well placed to take advantage of A.I technologies in this domain, not just through our research frameworks, but also in the future through a reformed education system that incorporates A.I.Ed and penetrates all levels of society, making the use of A.I to complete tasks or reach goals as natural as using a calculator or pen and paper.
  3. Many pundits, experts, economists and capitalists argue that specialized narrow artificial intelligence applications, robotics and other forms of technological automation will ultimately result in a significant increase in human unemployment and underemployment within many fields of human endeavour (Deloitte[14], Financial Times[15], RSA[16]). This significant “hollowing out” of Labour at all levels of the employment ladder may well result in a fundamental shift in UK society, leading to much greater levels of inequality, lesser social justice and a greater potential for social unrest. However, if managed effectively and with all due ethical consideration, the further development of A.I and the concomitant increase in the automation of labour could become a boon to the UK, in terms of increased productivity by reducing the everyday burden of citizens via a basic-income and freeing their creativity and innate empathy. Additionally, providing a basic income allows for the scrapping of large portions of the welfare system as means testing or fraud detection would no longer be required. This would have the effect of increasing social mobility for citizens at a time when it is required, in order to re-educate or re-train to remain a viable prospect in a shrinking employment market.
  4. Thus, while it is increasingly likely that grande-masse automation will reduce the number of employment opportunities, benefits can accrue through an evolved education system that creates new employment opportunities. A.I.Ed could potentially become a large area of economic growth, helping to increase A.I, robotics and automation acceptance in the general populace. Growth would be stimulated based on the sheer number of industrial and cognitive domains required to support the development of educational A.I systems, such as, educators, computer science, Information technology, designers, technologists, infrastructure specialists, content creators and those sub domains that that support them.
  5. There will be a number of other opportunities both economic and social that will come from developing A.I technologies in the UK and advancements from within the industry. For example, in transport management, imagine a transport management system able to respond in real-time to traffic conditions nationally and locally, with the ability to update automated and non-automated vehicles with prevailing conditions and alternative courses of action, ensuring optimal traffic flow and reducing fuel consumption, accidental damage and time-to-travel as a consequence. The same types of system could be applied to critical infrastructure to provide greater resilience and fault tolerance. Another example within healthcare, would be the use of Big Data analytics to provide diagnostic support to GP’s, hospitals and secondary care providers allowing for fully personalised health care, through the rapid diagnosis and identification of disease states and which interventions would work most effectively for the individual, helping to reduce the cost overhead associated with prolonged care due to diagnostic exploration and drug provision.
  6. The possibility exists that A.I could be used within governance, providing evidence and helping to fact check statements and build policy. A decision support A.I could in effect act as a buffer between politician and policy, ensuring that before policy becomes actionable no unintended consequences are likely to arise. This is also an area of active research that could also provide economic and status benefits should the UK encourage its growth.

5.    Issues in developing robotic and artificial intelligence technologies

  1. The biggest challenge the UK faces with regards to developing A.I technologies, is educating the populace in its use, benefits and risks and how fast this information can be disseminated, from those in early learning, attending college or university to those performing jobs soon to be automated or retired, all must be made aware of the coming changes. It will not simply be a case of injecting some A.I subject matter into schools and colleges and hoping that learners and schools adapt, the change to an “A.I mind-set” needs to be systemic affecting all levels of our society. For the UK to prosper an equal focus must be on the practical applications of A.I in addition to creating and understanding the technology. The UK must focus on creating a generation of machine learning practitioners, through early learning and advocating “degree apprenticeships” or vocational certification.
  2. Short-sightedness could make the UK fall at the first hurdle in its efforts to capitalise upon A.I technologies, existing austerity measures could inhibit any effort through lack of funding. Taking advantage of A.I and it development would require a significant redeployment of funds towards those scientific and industrial domains which demonstrate multidisciplinary approaches utilising A.I to provide services nationally and globally or those applying A.I solve problems specific to the UK and its society.
  3. Another challenge facing the UK will be ensuring positive applications of A.I, a balance must be struck between national security needs and personal freedoms afforded to UK citizens, applying fully autonomous A.I to surveillance tasks targeted at citizens is a minefield of unparalleled danger. While the state is tasked with the security of its people, policing thought and action beyond the confines of just law, lies outside of its remit.
  4. A nimble and lean directorate consisting of ministers, economists, scientists and policy experts and futurists should be created, able to respond in short timescales to technological advances in near-real-time this expert policy group should advise upon and revise policy in line with the pace of technological change. Rather than traditional precautionary policy decision approaches this group should adopt a proactionary approach to policy and regulation (i.e. a light touch, but ethically constrained) of A.I in order to reap the benefits that the technology can bring to society and advance understanding of the negative consequences. This group should advise upon or create policy and legislature that is robust enough to adapt to rapid and radical changes, without falling into traditional deny all regulation.
  5. While it is lamentable that we live in a world of warring nation states, unmitigated threats and intractable ideologies, defence is another area in which the nations technological expertise and thought leadership can be applied. Investment in A.I and robotics for national defence is increasing globally[17], and it is within the UK’s best interest to increase research and development in this area in order to keep abreast of the changing nature of warfare. A full analysis of how A.I can be applied to defence ethically and morally is beyond the scope of this briefing. However, artificial intelligence and automated defence could potentially be an area of economic growth and a driver of global stability for this century, much as nuclear weapons and the potential for Mutually Assured Destruction was for the early portion of the previous century, the potential risks of A.I and robotics applied to warfare cannot be overstated.

6.    Conclusion

  1. A.I research and development has an immense amount of momentum behind it, socially, technically and economically. It is not a question of if we should we develop A.I further but rather how fast can the nation mobilise resources in the industrial, educational and civil services to take advantage of this brief period of research and exploration of the technology. The government must make a statement that defines the nation’s role as a leading light and technologically advanced society to be made to be at the forefront of its development in terms of the nation’s ability to prosper and defend itself.

References

[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond

[2] Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Andrew McAfee. The second machine age: work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies. WW Norton & Company, 2014.

[3] http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/speeches/2015/864.aspx

[4] http://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/finance/deloitte-uk-finance-robots-are-coming.pdf

[5] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/

[6] Brynjolfsson, E., & McAfee, A. (2014). The second machine age: work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies. WW Norton & Company.

[7] http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/business-technology/our-insights/disruptive-technologies

[8] https://www.icrc.org/en/document/statement-icrc-lethal-autonomous-weapons-systems

[9] https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/04/11/killer-robots-and-concept-meaningful-human-control

[10] http://spectrum.ieee.org/telecom/security/the-real-story-of-stuxnet

[11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-36158606

[12] https://www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/creativity_vs._robots_wv.pdf

[13] https://www.pearson.com/innovation/smarter-digital-tools/intelligence-unleashed.html

[14] http://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/press-releases/articles/automation-and-industries-analysis.html

[15] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/126527ce-f8a8-11e5-8f41-df5bda8beb40.html#axzz45QbZXYUO

[16] https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/reports/basic-income/

[17] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9067b4c2-0d14-11e6-ad80-67655613c2d6.html

RSA Basic Income: What’s in it for People with Disabilities?

By Gareth John

The Transhumanist Party UK recently welcomed a report by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) with regard the argument for a Universal Basic Income in the UK.

First things first: I myself firmly support the principle of Basic Income and the RSA publication.

However, I am concerned that little mention has been made of how this would work for people with disabilities that preclude them from working.

Potato balancing

There are many references in the report to support for Carers and ‘care’ that I’ve taken the liberty to list here:

  • A Basic Income would help people care for their relatives, friends and neighbours without having to account for their actions to the state.
  • Basic Income allows people to more easily take time off, reduce their hours, or take short career breaks to care for an elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable person.
  • It mitigates or eliminates losses that particular groups might experience.
  • Carers currently receive financial support but it is a very bureaucratic system. These allowances are means-tested and rules bound (e.g. you have to care for at least 35 hours per week in order to receive it). For this reason, the benefit is under-claimed by almost £1bn per annum. Basic Income allows people to more easily take time off, reduce their hours, or take short career breaks to care for an elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable person. These needs will increase over coming decades so greater flexibility will be necessary. Basic Income is very helpful in this regard.
  • It also allows parents, carers, and learners to have a basic level of security to pursue their lives without interference.
  • Expressed in the terms of Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations theory, the UK’s current needs-based system contains elements of care, reciprocal altruism, loyalty (to expressed community virtue), authority and sanctity.

The report does mention disability; however, aside from exempting it from the current proposals, it makes no reference as to how/what the implementation of Basic Income would mean for people with disabilities who are unable to work.Disabilities

Would things remain as they are? How would that reconcile itself with the broader proposals outlined here?

For reference, I’ve included the mentions made in the RSA report specifically about disability here:

  • Our proposal is based on the Citizen’s Income Trust 2012–13 scheme with some important fiscal adaptations. Housing and disability are not included in the model as a consequence.
  • From removing benefits, tax reliefs and allowances (excluding those relating to disability and housing), the Citizen’s Income Trust estimates total savings of £272bn.
  • As with the Citizen’s Income Trust47 proposal, the RSA Basic Income model outlined above excludes any reform of housing or council tax benefits (and, for the record, disability payments).

My concern is that ‘excluding’ disability payments from Basic Income will make for a more bureaucratic system rather than lessen it.

The current disability benefits in the UK include Incapacity Benefit (being phased out), Employment & Support Allowance which includes a contribution-based benefit, an income-based benefit, a work-related activity group where people with disabilities who ‘may’ be capable of work are mentored (some would say coerced) to ease the transition back into work together with the support group where the disability is regarded as so severe as to mean that this person is not fit for work and is unlikely to be for the foreseeable future. I myself am currently in this group. The report removes those of us with disabilities from the general conversation by glossing over what would happen to us and how we could benefit from the Basic Income.

This is further exacerbated by the somewhat conservative tone underlying the RSA report that again diminishes the role of people with disabilities in society:

  • This explains a recent increase in interest in the ‘contributory-principle’. In common parlance, this means that as you put more in you should get more out.
  • The demand is not for ‘more for more’ as contributory systems offer. It is for ‘less for less’ — a lower income for less contribution.

If things for people with disabilities are to remain as they are, Basic Income will do little to impact on our lives – even the incentives for Carers to have more flexibility for their caring duties makes little difference for those in need of constant care – and thus the RSA proposal does little to remove the social stigma and coercive nature of the current system.

Far from removing sanctions against those with disabilities, things will stay just as they are, in which case I fail to see how the following comment by the RSA re: Basic Income is any more progressive than where we’re at now:

  • These sanctions have led to demoralisation, deleterious mental health impacts, indebtedness, poverty, learners being removed from vocational courses close to their completion and an expansion of food banks. What began as an exercise in reciprocal altruism – where benefits apply only to those who ‘contribute’ – has become inhumane.

I realise that the report is excluding ‘disability and housing’ in order to put forward the basic tenets of Basic Income without overly-complicating things at this stage. However, as a person with a long-term severe mental health disability which has led to me losing my job and in all likelihood remaining unemployed for the foreseeable future, I have to admit that the report does make me feel marginalised rather than empowered.

Just to be clear – I do support Basic Income and believe it is the best way forward morally and with regard to the massive social changes emerging technologies will bring to the marketplace.

I just wish the RSA had had more to say about how Basic Income will affect people with disabilities rather than excluding them from the proposal, even at this early stage. Things as they are now for people like me also need to change. We’re just not being told how.

Any comments/opinions welcomed.

Gareth JohnAbout the author

Gareth John lives in Mid Wales. He is an ex-Buddhist priest with an MA in Buddhist Studies at the University of Bristol, and has performed studies on non-monastic traditions of Tibetan tantric Buddhism. He identifies as a technoprogressive and lives with bipolar disorder.