By David W Wood, Executive Director, Transpolitica
The single most important task of the next ten years is to find better ways of cooperating. In an age of unprecedented crowds – both online and offline – the global human community urgently needs social mechanisms that will encourage the wisdom of crowds rather than the folly of crowds.
Our existing methods of mutual coordination seem to produce more strife than harmony these days. We’re struggling to cope with ever larger tensions and disruptions on the shrinking world stage. The nation state, the multinational business firm, the free market, the non-governmental organisation, the various international bodies of global coordination set up after the Second World War – all find themselves deeply challenged by the myriad fast-evolving overlapping waves of stress of the early twenty-first century.
We’re facing tragedies of the commons writ larger than ever before. The actions that make good sense to smaller groups often add up, perversely, to disastrous outcomes for the larger community. But attempts to coordinate actions to avoid such tragedies are falling foul of numerous deep-seated conflicts of interest. These conflicts are made more intractable by the sweeping pace of change and by the burgeoning multiplicity of interconnections. For the way forward, we’re going to need more than “politics as usual”. We’ll need to move beyond Politics 1.0.
Politics 1.0 has worked wonders over the centuries, enabling productive human cooperation on impressive scales. We can look back in heartfelt admiration at the Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, the separation of powers, declarations of rights, emancipation bills, market liberalisation, protection of minority interests, new deals, introductions of welfare states, and the gradual (although fitful) reduction of inter-state violence. In each case, the effort required people to set aside their narrow, personal interests, for the sake of an encompassing higher vision. Politics 1.0 has taken us a long way. But the multidimensional, intersecting nature of present-day issues and opportunities requires a new calibre of politics. For reasons I’ll explain shortly, I call that “Politics 2.0”.
The chapters ahead provide visions of what Politics 2.0 might look like. They express the thoughts, hopes, and fears from a diverse mix of futurists, political thinkers, academics, and think-tank members. They continue the discussion started in “Anticipating Tomorrow’s Politics”[i], the first Transpolitica book. It’s by no means the end of the discussion, but there’s lots of food for thought.
The future, if we can grasp it
In principle, we ought to be able to look ahead to a rosy future. In principle, sustainable abundance is just around the corner. Provided we collectively get our act together, we have within our grasp a profound cornucopia of renewable energy, material goods, health, longevity, intelligence, creativity, freedom, and positive experience – plenty for everyone. This sustainable abundance can be attained within one human generation, by wisely accelerating the green technology revolution – including stem cell therapies, 3D printing, prosthetics, robotics, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, synthetic biology, neuro-enhancement, artificial intelligence, and supercomputing.
In principle, the rich fruits of technology – sustainable abundance – can be provided for all, not just for those who manage to rise to the top of the present-day social struggle. In principle, a bold reorganisation of society can take place in parallel with the green technology revolution – so that everyone can freely access the education, healthcare, and everything else needed to flourish as a full member of society.
But these steps will involve a measure of coordination that seems to lie outside our present capability. What has brought us here, so far, isn’t going to get us there.
Politics opposing innovation
In principle, human innovation can create the solutions to provide a sustainable abundance for everyone. These solutions will take advantage of new technology to create new products and services – better food, better healthcare, better education, better sources of energy, better transport, better care for the environment, better waste-management, better leisure, better entertainment, and so on.
But new products often provoke disquiet. They don’t always work as expected. They can often have nasty unintended side-effects. They may fail to live up to the promises made for them, sometimes even ruining people’s lives or despoiling the environment. For these reasons, society needs to keep its collective eye on new products. Even when new products function as intended, they typically result in marketplace losers as well as winners. In other words, new products can threaten vested interests. These vested interests, therefore, also keep a collective eye on new products. The two sets of watchfulness – the legitimate concern for the well-being of users of the product, and the more contentious concern for the well-being of competitors to the product – often overlap. Handling this murky overlap, with discernment and objectivity, is a key task in society’s self-governance.
Society can, with justification, take two different stances towards a specific innovation:
- The innovation is desirable, and should therefore be supported, perhaps by pricing subsidies, tax breaks, and provision of central funding
- The innovation (as it stands) has undesirable aspects, and should be restricted or penalised until such time as it conforms to various standards.
Again, in each case, motivations to protect users of the innovation can overlap with motivations to protect the well-being of competitors of the innovation.
Consider some examples from recent news stories:
- Unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones”) represent many booming business opportunities, with their capabilities for surveillance and transport. But in December last year, a drone almost collided[ii] with a commercial airliner near Heathrow. There are clearly safety implications if unregulated drones are able to fly without restriction. The same as there are rules to ensure motor vehicles are roadworthy, there’s a need for systems to prevent aberrant drones from causing havoc
- Innovative car hire firm Uber is running into legal controversy all over the world[iii], as existing taxi drivers highlight cases of potential concern. For example, in Dec 2014, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office issued a legal indictment against Uber (and against CEO Travis Kalanick) for violating a Korean law prohibiting individuals or firms without appropriate licenses from providing or facilitating transportation services
- The Californian company 23andMe provide genetic testing services direct to the public, taking advantage of breakthroughs in technologies for DNA sequencing and analysis. However, the FDA have issued a warning letter to 23andMe, instructing the company to “immediately discontinue marketing”[iv] selected products and services. The FDA is concerned about “the potential health consequences that could result from false positive or false negative assessments for high-risk indications such as these”. It asserts: “a false positive could lead a patient to undergo prophylactic surgery, chemoprevention, intensive screening, or other morbidity-inducing actions, while a false negative could result in a failure to recognize an actual risk that may exist”
- Growth in the usage of innovative “legal high” drugs has resulted in more than a doubling of the number of deaths[v] from these drugs in the UK over the last four years. As a result, the new UK government has tabled a blanket ban on the creation or distribution of “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect”, with a prison sentence of up to seven years[vi] for people who contravene the ban. The legislation has generated lots of opposition, for its heavy-handedness, and also for its potential to obstruct innovative neuro-enhancement products
- In response to popular concern about the negative visual appearance of wind turbines “covering the beautiful countryside”[vii], the new UK government is axing financial subsidies that were previously benefiting the wind energy industry
- As an example of where government subsidies remain in place, supporting an energy industry, fossil fuels subsidies totalling $5.3 trillion will apply in 2015[viii], according to a report released by the IMF (International Monetary Firm). For comparison, this figure is greater than the total annual health spending of all the world’s governments.
Other examples could be mentioned from the fields of banking, telecommunications, security, defence, and agriculture. I summarise the issues as follows:
- Subsidies and regulations, applicable to innovative products, are a core and necessary part of how society governs itself
- It is frequently a hard task to determine which subsidies and regulations ought to apply – and when previous subsidies and regulations ought to be changed
- Legislation is often out-dated, being more concerned with avoiding repetitions of past problems, rather than enabling future development
- Regulatory bodies are often “captured” by vested interests who have a strong desire to preserve the status quo
- Politicians are frequently deeply out-of-depth in their understanding of the relevant technologies; like regulatory bodies, they can fall victim to over-influence from existing industries rather than enabling the emergence of new industries
- The increased pace of change of technological innovation makes the above issues worse.
None of this is an argument to dismantle politics, regulations, or the system of subsidies. Instead, it’s an argument to improve these systems. It’s an argument for Politics 2.0.
Rather than technological innovation simply being the recipient of influence (both good and bad) from politics, the direction of cause-and-effect can be reversed. Technological innovation can transform politics, the same as it is transforming so many other areas of life.
Web 1.0 and Web 2.0
As a comparison, consider the transformation that took place[ix] in usage of the World Wide Web between around 1996 (“Web 1.0”) and 2006 (“Web 2.0”).
This transformation wasn’t just in terms of numbers of users of web browsers – moving from around 45 million to over one billion users over that period of time. Nor was it just that the web grew in size from around 250,000 sites to more than 80 million. Instead, it was a change in the character of the web, from a “mostly read-only web” to a “wildly read-write web”. (This analysis is due to pioneering Web 2.0 analyst Dion Hinchcliffe[x].) The result is that the web increasingly displayed collective intelligence. Users submitted their own content to sites such as Wikipedia, Amazon (book reviews), EBay, Facebook, YouTube, and so on. In turn, systems of collective evaluation highlighted the content that was worthy of greater attention.
In more details, the transformation between 1.0 and 2.0 can be described as follows:
- Instead of the distribution of static intelligence through the network to its edges, P2P (peer-to-peer) connections enabled multiplication of intelligence within the network
- Instead of a library (the readable web), there was a conversation (the writable web)
- Instead of there being a small number of fixed authority figures (“oracles”), there were dynamic user-reputation systems, which enabled new figures to emerge quickly, with strong reputations as judged by the community as a whole
- The model of “publishing and retrieval” was replaced by “collaboration and interaction”
- Instead of innovation coming primarily from companies, it increasingly came from feedback and suggestions from users.
As for the improvement of the web, so also for the improvement of politics.
Innovation improving politics
The chapters in this volume explore various ways in which new technology might, analogously, enable improved politics:
- With relevant expert knowledge being quickly brought to questions of subsidies, regulations, standards, and so on – rather than politicians being out of their depths
- With a real “wisdom of crowds” supporting the decisions made by elected leaders, rather than leaders having to deal with the “folly of crowds” often displayed by present-day democracies
- With automated fact-checking taking place in real-time, rather than mistakes and errant claims being allowed to influence political discussion for too long
- With humans improving their own cognitive skills, as part of a process we can call cyborgization
- With external artificial intelligence augmenting the decision-making capabilities of humans
- With a competitive community of online educators creating ever-better communications systems that highlight more clearly the key decisions that need to be taken, shorn of their surrounding distractions.
To an extent, all political parties pay lip service to the idea that decision-making processes can be improved by wise adoption of smart new technology. However, it is the transhumanist contingent in politics that puts most focus on this possibility. Transhumanists vividly perceive the possibility of profound transformation. As stated in the Transhumanist FAQ[xii], quoting philosopher Max More[xiii]
Transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase…
“Transhumanism is a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.”
Pioneering Swedish transhumanist Anders Sandberg expressed it like this[xiv] (emphasis added):
Transhumanism is the philosophy that we can and should develop to higher levels, both physically, mentally and socially using rational methods.
I’ll end these introductory remarks by referring to an endorsement[xv] that was recently given by Robert Kennedy III – the grandson of the Robert Kennedy[xvi] who served as Attorney General in the administration of JFK. The endorsement was in favour of Zoltan Istvan[xvii], the candidate of the Transhumanist Party for the US presidency in 2016. It reads in part:
Why are we shackled to a system of government designed before there were telephones? … Zoltan Istvan is offering creative and innovative solutions to the urgent problems we face. We can choose to live in a technological nightmare, or to harness the power of science for the betterment of humanity.
As the energetic visible trailblazer for a new kind of politics, Istvan generates considerable feedback, including both positive and negative. As you’ll see, some of the chapters in this book cover and extend that feedback; other chapters explore different aspects of Politics 2.0.
The chapters ahead
Zoltan Istvan’s “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”: a libertarian philosophical basis for “Transhumanist” politics
Roland Benedikter, Katja Siepmann, and Annabella McIntosh have collaborated to create a chapter with the following introduction:
The current foundation phase of “Transhumanist” politics deserves a critical discussion of the philosophical principles that implicitly underlie its new political organization. As part of the effort towards a self-critical evaluation of political transhumanism, which is undoubtedly still in a very early phase of development, this chapter discusses the philosophy drafted by the founder of the “Transhumanist Party of the USA”, Zoltan Istvan, in his bestselling novel “The Transhumanist Wager” (2013) dedicated to develop the vision of a better society. Istvan called the philosophy underlying his meta-national, if not global, vision “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”.
We discuss the achievements, contradictions and dialectics of and within this philosophy; its possible relation to realistic social policy programs; as well as the potential implications and consequences. The goal is to achieve a more considered overall discourse at the contested new ideological interface between humanism and transhumanism which could define an influential zeitgeist of our time.
Roland Benedikter is Research Scholar at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies[xviii] of the University of California at Santa Barbara, Senior Affiliate of the Edmund Pellegrino Center on Clinical Bioethics of Georgetown University, Trustee of the Toynbee Prize Foundation Boston, Senior Research Scholar of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington DC, and Full member of the Club of Rome.
Katja Siepmann is a socio-political analyst, Senior Research Fellow of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs[xix] Washington D.C., Member of the German Council on Foreign Relations, and Lecturer at the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Cultural Sciences of the European University Frankfurt/Oder.
Annabella McIntosh is a freelance political writer based in Berlin, Germany.
Four political futures: which will you choose?
David Wood, Executive Director of Transpolitica, and chair of London Futurists[xx], introduces his chapter as follows:
Forget left wing versus right wing. The political debate in the medium-term future (10-20 years) will be dominated, instead, by a new set of arguments. These arguments debate the best set of responses to the challenges and opportunities posed by fast-changing technology.
In this essay, I’ll outline four positions: technosceptical, technoconservative, technolibertarian, and technoprogressive. I’ll argue that the first two are non-starters, and I’ll explain why I personally favour the technoprogressive stance over the technolibertarian one.
How do governments add value to society?
Bruce Lloyd is Emeritus Professor of Strategic Management, London South Bank University[xxi]. He argues in his chapter that, in the wake of current discussions about the future of politics, there is a fundamental question we all need to be asking. What are governments for? Alternatively expressed: How do governments add value to society?
He claims it is difficult, if not impossible, to find one simple answer to this question. In practice, there are two fundamentally different – potentially conflicting – pressures that need to be reconciled. The first pressure is the re-distribution dimension. The second is the need to effectively exploit potential and actual economies of scale.
There is also a third pressure, which needs to be integrated into policy initiatives: the need to develop structures that are the most favourable to effective positive innovation.
The chapter contends that, unless the interplay of these fundamental pressures is given greater attention at all levels of government decision-making, we are unlikely to be able to make progress on the other important challenges, mentioned elsewhere in this book, that we all face in the decades ahead. This will result in our future being much more precarious than it needs to be.
The benefits of digital democracy
Walter L.S. Burrough and Kay Firth-Butterfield introduce their chapter as follows:
This Chapter discusses the way in which U.S. citizens could be encouraged to re-engage with the electoral process and why such engagement will matter. In doing so consideration is given to the way in which such engagement can be facilitated by the development of an AI ‘trusted agent’, and the way in which true democracy reveals the uniqueness of the human characteristic to care about community.
The authors of this chapter note that the views they express in this chapter are their own and do not represent the views of any organizations for which they work, consult or teach.
Walter Burrough is a PhD candidate at the Serious Games Institute[xxii], University of Coventry. His research builds upon his Masters degree in Education, his work as a science teacher with “at risk” students in high needs schools, and his experience in database driven software development. He is interested in how to best design personalised interventions that enhance individuals’ behaviours and decision making using mobile technologies.
Kay Firth-Butterfield is the Chief Officer of the Ethics Advisory Panel of Lucid[xxiii]. Lucid is bringing to market Cyc which is, arguably, the world’s only strong artificial intelligence. Previously, she worked as a barrister, mediator, arbitrator, business owner, professor and judge in the United Kingdom. In the United States, she has taught at the undergraduate and law school levels and worked as a professional lecturer. She is a humanitarian with a strong sense of social justice and has advanced degrees in Law and International Relations.
Cyborgization: a possible solution to errors in human decision making
Dana Edwards and Alexander J Karran have collaborated to create a chapter with the following abstract:
Accelerating social complexity in combination with outstanding problems like attention scarcity and information asymmetry contribute to human error in decision making. Democratic institutions and markets both operate under the assumption that human beings are informed rational decision makers working with perfect information, situation awareness, and unlimited neurological capacity. We argue that, although these assumptions are incorrect, they could to a large extent be mediated by a process of cyborgization, up to and including electing cyborgs into positions of authority.
Dana Edwards is a Transpolitica Consultant.
Alexander J Karran is a Transpolitica Consultant and co-editor of this volume. Alex also has the distinction[xxiv] of being probably the first candidate for parliamentary election in Europe to stand under an openly transhumanist party banner – in the constituency of Liverpool Walton during the UK General Election of May 2015.
Of mind and money: post-scarcity economics and human nature
Stuart Mason Dambrot urges in his chapter for a “Revolution through evolution”. He summarises his chapter as follows:
- In a medical model, our myriad problems can be seen as symptoms of a central underlying condition, rather than cultural problems that can be addressed by social policies
- That causative condition is a direct and primary consequence of our hominid evolutionary neurobiological heritage
- The path forward to an enlightened world is for each individual to physiologically evolve beyond that heritage
- We can wait for thousands of generations (natural evolution is slow) or use the science and technology our brain has manifested to achieve that step in a matter of decades
- The decision is ours to make.
Based in New York City, Stuart is an interdisciplinary synthesist, futurist and science communicator; the founder of Critical Thought[xxv]; and creator and host of Critical Thought | TV[xxvi], an online discussion channel featuring in-depth conversations with transformative individuals in the sciences, arts and humanities.
Voluntary basic incomes in a reputation economy
The abstract for the chapter by Michael Hrenka is as follows:
Advanced reputation systems provide the basis for an emerging reputation economy, whose functioning principles are explained in this chapter. In turn, a reputation economy provides unprecedented possibilities and incentives for voluntary basic income systems. There are multiple ways in which a mature reputation economy could make voluntary basic incomes feasible, and these different routes are explored in detail. Voluntary basic incomes have the clear advantage of not requiring large political interventions in order to operate successfully, and thus could be implemented faster and easier. These voluntary basic incomes could play an alternative or complementary role to a more conventional universal basic income. However, supportive political actions should facilitate the development of a highly functional reputation economy, in order to provide better conditions for the emergence of voluntary basic incomes.
Michael lives in Reutlingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, and describes himself as “a philosopher who studied mathematics and wants to upgrade the world”. He blogs at radivis.com[xxvii] and hosts the Fractal Future Forum at forum.fractalfuture.net[xxviii].
Specifications: an engineer’s approach to upgrading politics
René Milan has been a psychedelic transhumanist for forty years and a member of WTA (now Humanity+) for fifteen. He has worked as a clinical psychologist and transpersonal psychotherapist for twenty five years and as a computer programmer and technical analyst for thirty. He currently lives in Jerez de la Frontera in Spain.
In his chapter, René presents a draft of specifications for an upgrade to current politics with the aim of providing an “improved user experience”. He attempts to identify the drivers and mechanics of current politics, determine what effect they have on the people subjected to them (“users”) and offer conclusions on how they could and should be improved for a Politics 2.0 release.
Extended longevity: an argument for increased social commitment
MH Wake, a social anthropologist and statistician, argues in her chapter that
- Recent improvements in life expectancy are the outcome of social forces – developments in medicine and in social welfare – which were specific to the twentieth century
- There is a risk of increasingly fostering a mistaken focus on individual choices, as if these are the main determinants of public health outcomes
- Continuing progress in life expectancy is by no means inevitable, without the adoption of deliberate policies to promote longevity.
Longevity, artificial intelligence and existential risks: opportunities and dangers
Didier Coeurnelle is co-chair of Heales[xxix] (Healthy Life Extension Society) and Spokesperson of the AFT (Association Française Transhumaniste) – Technoprog[xxx]. He argues in his chapter that:
- Given the extraordinary difficulty of prolonging the maximal lifespan of human beings, focusing as much Artificial General Intelligence as possible on longevity could be the most useful goal of all at the beginning of the 21st century
- If successful, giving the opportunity to live longer lives could be among other things a very important factor in decreasing the violent trends present in each and every of us
- Successful or unsuccessful, giving the absolute priority to artificial intelligence to protect and to improve human beings will decrease the risk of artificial intelligence destroying or hurting us.
Prolegomena to any future transhumanist politics
Steve Fuller is Auguste Comte Professor in Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick[xxxi]. He graduated from Columbia University in History & Sociology before gaining an M.Phil. from Cambridge and PhD from Pittsburgh, both in the History and Philosophy of Science.
He raises in his chapter the provocative question: Can transhumanism avoid becoming the Marxism of the 21st century? The chapter concludes by recommending that transhumanists should ally with a proactionary ‘ecomodernism’, which specifically targets energy as a locus for innovation.
Many thanks are due to:
- Alexander Karran, for his sterling work reviewing and suggesting improvements to the chapters in this book
- The team of Transpolitica consultants who collectively reviewed many iterations of draft chapters on our shared Slack installation
- All authors, for frequently processing change requests and answering queries in a prompt and courteous manner.
The book cover is based on a design by Alberto Rizzoli[xxxii].
Towards the future
The analysis in Envisioning Politics 2.0 will be continued:
- Online, in response to chapters as they are made available on the Transpolitica website[xxxiii]
- In the book “Anticipating 2040: Roadmap to sustainable abundance” which is scheduled for publication in early October 2015 (this book is being produced via Fast Future Publishing[xxxiv]).
Image source: Dion Hinchcliffe (2006)
[x] http://dionhinchcliffe.com/ – see also the previous reference
The article above features as the Introduction of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.