The Future of Politics (#T4G17)

Later today (Saturday 4th November), David Wood, the Executive Director of Transpolitica, will be speaking at the #T4G17 event “The Future of Politics”.

DW Fourth Group Summit

The core message that will be shared is this:

The future of politics is technoprogressive transhumanism

In more detail:

  • The profound application of the exponential technologies of the fourth industrial revolution: nanotech, biotech, infotech, cognotech
  • The positive transformation of human nature – body, mind, society
  • Renewed democracy, elevating the best insights of the community
  • A roadmap to sustainable abundance, with no-one left behind

Note: For more information about today’s event – organised by The Fourth Group –  see thefutureofpolitics.eventbrite.com.

Democracy and inclusion: chapter ready for review

FiPo cover hires

Another new chapter of the forthcoming book “Transcending Politics” has been released for review comments by Transpolitica supporters. This means that drafts of ten of the envisaged 13 chapters have now been completed. At the current rate of progress, the book has a good chance of being finished by Christmas.

The latest chapter is entitled “Democracy and inclusion”. You can get an idea of the content covered in this chapter by the list of its section headings:

  • Technoprogressive decision-making
  • When democracy goes wrong
  • Why democracy matters
  • A democracy fit for a better future
  • Better politicians for better democracy
  • Beyond the stranglehold of political parties
  • Could we dispense with politicians?
  • Why nations fail

Here’s how the chapter starts (in its current version):

I’ll start this chapter by repeating a set of questions from midway through the previous chapter:

Where should the boundary fall, between the permitted and the impermissible? What is the method to tell whether a particular item of food or medicine is suitable to be freely bought and sold, as opposed to needing regulation? What safety regulations should employers be obliged to observe, in their treatment of employees or contractors? Which new technologies need careful monitoring (such as hazardous new biochemicals), and which can have all details freely published on the open Internet?

My basic answer to all these questions was: it’s complicated, but we can work out the answers step by step. I now want to ask a follow-up set of questions:

  • Who is it that should decide where the boundary should fall, between the permitted and the impermissible?
  • Who is it that should decide which health and safety regulations should be introduced?
  • Who is it that should decide which technologies need careful monitoring?

Should these decisions be taken by civil servants, by academics, by judges, by elected politicians, or by someone else?

There’s a gist of an answer in what I said later in the previous chapter:

Each area of regulatory oversight of the economy – each set of taxes or safety standards imposed or revised – needs careful attention by an extended community of reviewers

By drawing on technological solutions that can orchestrate the input of large numbers of human thinkers, we can keep improving our collective understanding of the best regulatory frameworks and institutions. We can collectively decide which constraints are needed on the activity of the free market, so that we benefit from its good consequences without suffering unnecessarily from its bad consequences.

But how will this work in practice? How do we prevent the bad effects of “group think” or (worse) “mob rule”? If there’s “an extended community of reviewers” involved, won’t that be far too cumbersome and slow in its deliberations?

Just as important, how do we avoid decisions being overly influenced by self-proclaimed experts who, in reality, have expertise in only a narrow domain, or whose expertise is out-of-date or otherwise ill-founded? And how do we guard against decision-makers being systematically misled by clever misinformation that builds a “false consciousness”?

Technoprogressive decision-making

As I see things, the ideal technoprogressive decision-making process would observe the following fifteen principles:

  1. Openness: Decisions should be subject to open review, rather than taking place secretly behind closed doors; reasons for and against decisions should be made public, throughout the decision-making process, so they can be scrutinised and improved
  2. Accessibility: Details of the decision process should be communicated in ways so that the key points can be understood by as wide a group of people as possible; this will allow input into the decision by people with multiple perspectives and backgrounds
  3. Disclosure: Assumptions behind decisions should be stated clearly, so they can be subject to further debate; potential conflicts of interest – for example if someone with ties to a particular company is part of a standards-setting exercise that would impact the company’s products – should, likewise, be stated upfront
  4. Accountability: People who are found to have deliberately miscommunicated points relevant to a decision – for example, suppressing important evidence, or distorting a competing argument – should be liable to a judicial process, and may have privileges withdrawn as a consequence
  5. Deliberation: In the terminology of Unanimous.AI CEO Louis Rosenberg, the decision should express the “convergent opinion” rather than the “average opinion”; decision-makers should work as a “swarm” that dynamically exchanges opinions and adjusts ideas, rather than as “crowd” that merely votes on an answer; in this way, the outcome is “the opinion the group can best agree upon”
  6. Constructive scepticism: All assumptions and opinions should be open to questioning – none should be placed into an untouchable category of “infallible foundation” or “sacrosanct authority” (for example, by saying “this was our manifesto commitment, so we have to do it”, or by saying “this is the express will of the people, so we cannot re-open this question”); on the other hand, rather than being hostile to the whole decision process, questions should be raised in ways that enable new alternative assumptions to be considered in place of the ones being criticised
  7. Autonomy: Each decision should be taken in its own right, with each decision-maker expressing their own independent views, rather than any system of horse-trading or party politics applying, in which individuals would act against their own consciences in order to follow some kind of “three line whip” or “party line”
  8. Data-driven: To guide them in their deliberations, decision-makers should seek out relevant data, and verify it, rather than giving undue credence to anecdote, supposition, or ideology
  9. Experimentation: In any case where significant uncertainty exists, rather than relying on pre-existing philosophical commitments, an incremental experimental approach should be preferred, in order to generate useful data that can guide the decision process
  10. Agility: Hard decisions should be broken down where possible into smaller chunks, with each chunk being addressed in a separate “sprint” (to borrow a term from the methodology of software development); for each sprint, the goal is to gain a better understanding of the overall landscape in which the decision needs to be taken; breaking a decision into sprints assists in preventing decisions from dragging on interminably with no progress
  11. Reversibility: Wherever possible, a reversible approach should be preferred, especially in areas of major uncertainty, so that policies can be undone if it becomes clear they are mistaken
  12. Adaptability: The system should applaud and support decision-makers who openly change their mind in the light of improved understanding; decision-makers should feel no undue pressure to stick with a previous opinion just in order to “keep face” or to demonstrate “party loyalty” through thick and thin
  13. Leanness: Decisions should focus on questions that matter most, rather than dictating matters where individual differences can easily be tolerated; by the way, “lean”, like “agile”, is another term borrowed from modern thinking about manufacturing: lean development seeks to avoid “waste”, such as excess bureaucracy
  14. Tech-embracing: Technology that assists with the decision process should be embraced (and people should be supported in learning how to use that technology); this includes wikis (or similar) that map out the landscape of a decision, automated logic-checkers, modelling systems that explore outcomes in simulated worlds, and other aspects of collabtech
  15. Independence: The outcome of decisions should not depend on the choice of which people coordinate the process; these people should be enablers rather than dictators of the solution.

Two underlying points deserve emphasis. These decisions about social institutions should be taken by everyone (that is, no-one is excluded from the process); and they should be taken by no-one in particular (that is, the process gives no special status to any individual decision-maker). These two points can be restated: the decisions should follow the processes of democracy, and they should follow the processes of the scientific method.

I’ll say more in this chapter about various problems facing democracy, and will return in later chapters to problems facing the application of the scientific method. The technoprogressive roadmap needs to be fully aware of these problems.

But before that, you may be thinking that the above fifteen principles set the bar impractically high. How is society going to be able to organise itself to observe all these principles? Isn’t it going to require a great deal of effort? Given the urgency of the challenges facing society, do we have the time available to us, to follow all these principles?

Here’s my response…

As with all the other chapters released so far, Google Doc copies of the latest version can be reached from this page on the Transpolitica website. Google Docs makes it easy for people to raise comments, suggest modifications to the text, and (for reviewers who log into a Google account) to see comments raised by other reviewers.

Comments are particularly welcome from reviewers where they point out mistakes, pieces of text where the meaning is unclear, or key considerations that seem to have been neglected.

Markets and fundamentalists: chapter ready for review

FiPo cover hires

Another new chapter of the forthcoming book “Transcending Politics” has been released for review comments by Transpolitica supporters. This means that drafts of nine of the envisaged 13 chapters have now been completed.

The chapter is entitled “Markets and fundamentalists“. As before, you can get an idea of the content covered in this chapter by the list of its section headings:

  • Conflicting views on markets
  • Collusion and cartels
  • The abuse of market power
  • When competition needs to be curtailed
  • Restrictions on economic freedom
  • Determining boundaries and externalities
  • When regulations cripple innovation
  • Overcoming vested interests
  • Beyond economic fundamentalism

Here’s how the chapter starts (in its current version):

Transhumanists look at the human condition and proclaim: humanity deserves better. By taking advantage of the best insights and energies of present-day humanity, we can elevate humanity to a comprehensively better state.

This proclamation alarms a series of different kinds of critics.

First, it alarms religious fundamentalists, who believe that humanity is already the end point of divine creation. Any apparent flaws in the human condition – such as the physical blind spot in our eyes, our many cognitive biases, and our destructive tendencies towards tribalism and xenophobia – must be self-inflicted (they say), being the result of human sinfulness, in past or present-day generations. Or perhaps these flaws form part of some vast inscrutable divine plan, beyond human comprehension.

In response, transhumanists view these flaws as being, instead, unhappy consequences of our evolutionary heritage. Natural selection was limited in its foresight. Because of the incremental nature of biological evolution, there were many engineering solutions that lay outside its grasp. Because of the resulting shortcomings in human body and mind, the social structures that grew up over history had their own shortcomings, in turn causing further problems in the human experience. Transhumanists accept that there are many aspects of humanity that are “very good” – to use the description placed into the divine mind by the authors of the first chapter of the biblical book of Genesis. But there are many other aspects of the human condition that are capable of radical improvement, via intelligent design that can be carried out by far-sighted twenty-first century human engineers. When these improvements are in place, humans will become very good indeed.

Second, transhumanism alarms a group of critics who can be described as humanist fundamentalists. These critics abhor the transhumanist idea that technology can profoundly augment human consciousness and human character. Transhumanists anticipate humans reaching systematically better decisions, with the help of advanced computer algorithms, artificial intelligence, and enhanced mental states accessed by increasingly smart drugs. Humanist critics fear that any solutions based on digital technology will be cold, unimaginative, and blinkered. A world that maximises efficiency, they warn, will be an inhuman one. These critics prefer the random whimsy and creative variability of the present-day human mind. Therefore they oppose the transhumanist project to use technology to improve the human mind. It won’t actually be an improvement, they say.

In response, transhumanists point out that digital technology can improve our creativity as well as our rationality. Rather than being limited to measures such as efficiency and productivity, new technology can augment our emotional responsiveness and spiritual capacity. As well as making us smarter, technology can make us kinder and more sensitive. Rather than dehumanising us, technology, used wisely, can humanise us more fully. Instead of most humans spending most of their lives in an impoverished mental state, the humans of the future can inhabit much higher planes of consciousness. But if we stick with our unaided mental capacity – as humanist fundamentalists would prefer – our quirkiness and (to use a candid term) stupidity will likely be the death of us. Humanity deserves better!

Third, consider a group of critics that I will call cultural fundamentalists. To them, when it comes to determining human capabilities, nurture is far more important than nature. If we want to improve human experience, we should prioritise changing human culture (the environment in which humans are nurtured). Let’s restrain advertising messages that encourage destructive consumerist tendencies. Let’s ensure popular soap operas have characters that demonstrate positive behaviour. Let’s avoid situations in which different people live side by side but receive very different rewards for roughly similar amounts of work, thereby stirring up feelings of alienation and resentment. Let’s improve life-long education. Let’s arrange for everyone to be able to meet regularly with trained counsellors to talk through their underlying personal struggles, and to receive fulsome personal affirmation. Above all, let’s not focus on individual biological differences. To such critics, transhumanist interest in genetic influences on behaviour and personality is a retrograde step. Any idea of choosing the genetic makeup of your baby – or of editing your own genome – harks back to the discredited ideology of eugenics. These critics, therefore, regard transhumanists as being perhaps just one or two steps removed on a slippery slope from the dreadful biological experiments of the Nazi era.

In response, transhumanists say we have to consider both nurture and nature. It would be perverse to rule out improving our biological selves, via enhanced nutrition, dietary supplements, medicinal compounds, detox programmes, or (an extension of the same line of interventions) genetic reprogramming. Just because some past genetic experiments have been moral scandals, there’s no necessity to group all future genetic experiments under the same heading. After all, various past experiments to improve human culture went horribly wrong too – but that’s no reason to give up on the “improve culture” pathway. Similarly, there’s no good reason to give up on the “improve biology” pathway. It is by taking fully into account both the biological and cultural influences on human capabilities, that we will have the best opportunity to improve human experience. That’s what humanity deserves.

To recap, transhumanists alarm religious fundamentalists, humanist fundamentalists, and cultural fundamentalists – but in all three cases, the alarm is misplaced. In the remainder of this chapter, I want to consider a fourth group of critics: market fundamentalists. I’ll also be considering the mirror image of that group, who can be called anti-market fundamentalists.

Conflicting views on markets

Market fundamentalists believe that free markets are absolutely the best way to decide the allocation of resources.

For example, what price should a taxi company charge, to transport passengers a given distance? A free market solution will allow the price to be adjusted according to supply and demand. If there are more people wanting to hire a taxi at a given time than there are drivers available, the price should be raised, using a “surge” multiplier (as in the practice of Uber). The higher price will encourage a greater number of part-time drivers to make themselves available to pick up passengers. And if some potential passengers have less of a need to take a taxi service at this precise time, they can cancel (or defer) their transport plans, in view of the higher prices. Supply and demand will both change, rationally, in line with the dynamically adjusted price.

Likewise, how many units should a manufacturer produce of, say, a new model of car with some smart new driver-assist features? In an open society, with freedom of choice for consumers and vendors alike, there’s no formula that can reliably predict the right sales figure ahead of time. Manufactures need to monitor the purchases actually made by consumers, and to adjust production accordingly. No one can be sure whether consumers will tend to prefer to spend their money, instead, on cars from a different manufacturer, or on overseas holiday vacations, or on Kickstarter investments. The choice belongs to them: it’s not something that should be dictated in advance by any government officials.

To boost sales of their new model, should the manufacturer reduce the retail price of the car? Again, that’s a decision under their own control, and shouldn’t be determined by any state planners of the economy. Out of the myriad individual free choices of the buyers and sellers of different goods and services, companies that are responsive to changing consumer needs will do well. In turn, consumers will benefit.

What about similar questions for the introduction of a new medical drug? Who should determine the price at which that drug will be sold? If there’s a free market, pharmaceutical companies that are responsive to changing patient needs will do well. If one company sets the price of the drug too high, another could introduce a competing product that is less expensive. In this system, there’s no need for any state planners of healthcare to determine the prices in advance.

Market fundamentalists resist attempts to override the operation of free markets. They maintain that planned economies have never performed as well as countries where decisions remain in the hands of buyers and sellers.

In response, transhumanists say: we can do better. The free market no more represents an absolute pinnacle of design than does the makeup of the human body, the composition of our DNA, or the output of evolution by natural selection. None of these features of the human species should be put onto a pedestal and worshipped. Resource allocation should be determined by the combined operation of several different social institutions – not by the free market alone. These institutions should steer the operation of the free market, for significantly better outcomes.

More accurately, some transhumanists say that we can do better. Unlike in the three previous cases, the transhumanist community is divided when it comes to free markets. Recall the distinction made in Chapter 1, between technolibertarian and technoprogressive. Both sides of this transhumanist divide see the tremendous transformational potential of technology. Both look forward avidly to the development and deployment of technology to overcome the limitations of the human condition. But whereas technoprogressives see important limitations within the operation of the free market, technolibertarians take a different view. Free markets don’t need to be steered, they say. Instead, free markets just need to be protected – protected against distortions that can arise from government interference, from monopolies (when free choice vanishes), and from “crony capitalism” (which is a particular type of government interference, since legislators in this case unduly favour the businesses of their “cronies”).

To round out this picture, one other position should be mentioned. Anti-market fundamentalists see the market system as having a pre-eminently bad effect on the human condition. The various flaws with free markets – flaws which I’ll be exploring throughout this chapter – are so severe, say these critics, that the most important reform to pursue is to dismantle the free market system. That reform should take a higher priority than any development of new technologies – AI, genetic engineering, stem cell therapies, neuro-enhancers, and so on. Indeed, if these new technologies are deployed whilst the current free market system remains in place, it will, say these critics, make it all the more likely that these technologies will be used to oppress rather than liberate.

In contrast, technoprogressives look forward to wiser management of the market system, rather than dismantling it. As I’ll argue, key to this wise management is the reform and protection of a number of other social institutions that sit alongside markets – a free press, free judiciary, independent regulators, and, yes, independent politicians.

Collusion and cartels

To proceed, let’s consider one of the ways in which free markets can fail…

As with all the other chapters released so far, Google Doc copies of the latest version can be reached from this page on the Transpolitica website. Google Docs makes it easy for people to raise comments, suggest modifications to the text, and (for reviewers who log into a Google account) to see comments raised by other reviewers.

Comments are particularly welcome from reviewers where they point out mistakes, pieces of text where the meaning is unclear, or key considerations that seem to have been neglected.

Finally, let me give a big public “thank you” to Andrew Vladimirov for the extensive comments he has recently provided on previous draft chapters. Andrew – I’ll get round to giving these comments my full attention shortly!

Exuberance and scarcity: chapter ready for review

FiPo cover hires

A new chapter of the forthcoming book “Transcending Politics” has been released for review comments by Transpolitica supporters.

The chapter is entitled “Exuberance and scarcity“. You can get an idea of the content covered by the list of its section headings:

  • Lost fortunes over the centuries
  • Overconfidence over the centuries
  • From slow change to fast change
  • Financial clouds gathering again
  • Economic maximisation is not enough
  • Animal spirits
  • A technoprogressive future for money
  • Towards sustainable abundance
  • Constancy amidst change

Here’s how the chapter starts (in its current version):

Let’s set aside for the time being the subject of the previous chapter, namely the threat of an environmental meltdown triggered by reckless human activity. Instead, to start this chapter, let’s consider a different kind of meltdown, in which financial systems cease working around the world.

In such a scenario, ordinary citizens might try to withdraw cash from bank teller machines, sometime in the next few years, only to find they’ve all stopped working. The funds in savings accounts may be significantly reduced overnight. Payment requests using credit cards may be declined, causing chaos in shops and restaurants. In an atmosphere of profound uncertainty, corporations will avoid taking risks. Business contracts will be cancelled, with growing numbers of employees being made redundant. Supermarket shelves will become bare. Populist politicians and newspapers will be quick to blame bankers, businessmen, overseas cabals, the so-called “elites”, reds-under-the-bed, or whoever. Tempers everywhere will flare. Soon, people will be trying to take matters into their own hands. The few “survivalists” who have been able to hoard scarce resources will find their stashes under attack. It won’t be long until law and order breaks down.

That’s a possible disturbing future which has echoes in many past upheavals. History bears witness to a long series of financial crashes, each ugly in their own way. Simpler times saw simpler kinds of crashes, but the effects were still often catastrophic for the individuals involved.

In this chapter, I’ll explore the likely effect on future financial stability from the trend that underpins all the others discussed in this book, namely the acceleration of technological innovation. Should that acceleration make us more apprehensive about forthcoming financial crises? Or will it instead diminish the importance of money? Indeed, if economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources, and accelerating technology delivers a sustainable abundance of all the basic necessities of life, where will that leave economics? Will the displacement of scarcity by abundance transform the so-called “dismal science” (economics) into an unnecessary science?

To give my answer in advance: that’s not going to happen any time soon, contrary to the apparent expectation of various techno-utopians. Technological innovation, by itself, isn’t going to free society from the risk of financial meltdowns. Instead, we’re going to need better politics: technoprogressive politics…

As with all the other chapters released so far, Google Doc copies of the latest version can be reached from this page on the Transpolitica website. Google Docs makes it easy for people to raise comments, suggest modifications to the text, and (for reviewers who log into a Google account) to see comments raised by other reviewers.

Comments are particularly welcome from reviewers where they point out mistakes, pieces of text where the meaning is unclear, or key considerations that seem to have been neglected.

Drafts of eight of the envisaged 13 chapters have now been completed. Over the month of August, it is hoped that at least one more chapter will be completed – and that the earlier chapters will be revised in the light of review comments that have already been received.

Championing the Future

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

GE_2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slide 31

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

The bigger issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnote

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone wanting to improve the situation faces three problems:

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

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

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

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.

transpolitica-2016-speakers-v4

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:

glisser-sample-screenshot

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)

slide4

Regulations, health, and transformation (10.00-12.00)

slide6

slide7

slide8

slide9

jc-quote-transpolitiica-2016

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

slide12

js-quote-transpolitica-2016

slide14

Society, data, and transformation (15.45-17.30)

ak-quote-transpolitiica-2016

slide17

slide18

slide19

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.