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7 December 2017

The super-opportunities and super-risks of super-AI

Filed under: AGI, Events, risks, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — David Wood @ 7:29 pm

2017 has seen more discussion of AI than any preceding year.

There has even been a number of meetings – 15, to be precise – in the UK Houses of Parliament, of the APPG AI – an “All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence”.

According to its website, the APPG AI “was set up in January 2017 with the aim to explore the impact and implications of Artificial Intelligence”.

In the intervening 11 months, the group has held 7 evidence meetings, 4 advisory group meetings, 2 dinners, and 2 receptions. 45 different MPs, along with 7 members of the House of Lords and 5 parliamentary researchers, have been engaged in APPG AI discussions at various times.

APPG-AI

Yesterday evening, at a reception in Parliament’s Cholmondeley Room & Terrace, the APPG AI issued a 12 page report with recommendations in six different policy areas:

  1. Data
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Skills
  4. Innovation & entrepreneurship
  5. Trade
  6. Accountability

The headline “key recommendation” is as follows:

The APPG AI recommends the appointment of a Minister for AI in the Cabinet Office

The Minister would have a number of different responsibilities:

  1. To bring forward the roadmap which will turn AI from a Grand Challenge to a tool for untapping UK’s economic and social potential across the country.
  2. To lead the steering and coordination of: a new Government Office for AI, a new industry-led AI Council, a new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, a new GovTech Catalyst, a new Future Sectors Team, and a new Tech Nation (an expansion of Tech City UK).
  3. To oversee and champion the implementation and deployment of AI across government and the UK.
  4. To keep public faith high in these emerging technologies.
  5. To ensure UK’s global competitiveness as a leader in developing AI technologies and capitalising on their benefits.

Overall I welcome this report. It’s a definite step in the right direction. Via a programme of further evidence meetings and workshops planned throughout 2018, I expect real progress can be made.

Nevertheless, it’s my strong belief that most of the public discussion on AI – including the discussions at the APPG AI – fail to appreciate the magnitude of the potential changes that lie ahead. There’s insufficient awareness of:

  • The scale of the opportunities that AI is likely to bring – opportunities that might better be called “super-opportunities”
  • The scale of the risks that AI is likely to bring – “super-risks”
  • The speed at which it is possible (though by no means guaranteed) that AI could transform itself via AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) to ASI (Artificial Super Intelligence).

These are topics that I cover in some of my own presentations and workshops. The events organisation Funzing have asked me to run a number of seminars with the title “Assessing the risks from superintelligent AI: Elon Musk vs. Mark Zuckerberg…”

DW Dec Funzing Singularity v2

The reference to Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg reflects the fact that these two titans of the IT industry have spoken publicly about the advent of superintelligence, taking opposing views on the balance of opportunity vs. risk.

In my seminar, I take the time to explain their differing points of view. Other thinkers on the subject of AI that I cover include Alan Turing, IJ Good, Ray Kurzweil, Andrew Ng, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Stuart Russell, Nick Bostrom, Isaac Asimov, and Jaan Tallinn. The talk is structured into six sections:

  1. Introducing the contrasting ideas of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg
  2. A deeper dive into the concepts of “superintelligence” and “singularity”
  3. From today’s AI to superintelligence
  4. Five ways that powerful AI could go wrong
  5. Another look at accelerating timescales
  6. Possible responses and next steps

At the time of writing, I’ve delivered this Funzing seminar twice. Here’s a sampling of the online reviews:

Really enjoyed the talk, David is a good presenter and the presentation was very well documented and entertaining.

Brilliant eye opening talk which I feel very effectively conveyed the gravity of these important issues. Felt completely engaged throughout and would highly recommend. David was an excellent speaker.

Very informative and versatile content. Also easy to follow if you didn’t know much about AI yet, and still very insightful. Excellent Q&A. And the PowerPoint presentation was of great quality and attention was spent on detail putting together visuals and explanations. I’d be interested in seeing this speaker do more of these and have the opportunity to go even more in depth on specific aspects of AI (e.g., specific impact on economy, health care, wellbeing, job market etc). 5 stars 🙂

Best Funzing talk I have been to so far. The lecture was very insightful. I was constantly tuned in.

Brilliant weighing up of the dangers and opportunities of AI – I’m buzzing.

If you’d like to attend one of these seminars, three more dates are in my Funzing diary:

Click on the links for more details, and to book a ticket while they are still available 🙂

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30 November 2017

Technological Resurrection: An idea ripe for discussion

Like it or not, humans are becoming gods. Where will this trend lead?

How about the ability to bring back to life people who died centuries ago, and whose bodies have long since disintegrated?

That’s the concept of “Technological Resurrection” which is covered in the recent book of the same name by Dallas, Texas based researcher Jonathan A. Jones.

The book carries the subtitle “A thought experiment”. It’s a book that can, indeed, lead readers to experiment with new kinds of thoughts. If you are ready to leave your normal comfort zone behind, you may find a flurry of unexpected ideas emerging in your mind as you dip into its pages. You’re likely also to encounter considerable emotional turmoil en route.

The context

Here’s the context. Technology is putting within human reach more and more of the capabilities that were thought, in former times, to be the preserve of divine beings:

  • We’re not omniscient, but Google has taken us a long way in that direction
  • We’re not yet able to create life at will, but our skills with genomic engineering are proceeding apace
  • Evolution need no longer proceed blindly, via Darwinian Russian roulette, but can benefit from conscious intelligent design (by humans, for humans)
  • Our ability to remake nature is being extended by our ability to remake human nature.
  • We can enable the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk
  • Thanks to medical breakthroughs, we can even bring the dead back to life – that is, the cessation of heart and breath need no longer herald an early grave.

But that’s just the start. It’s plausible that, sooner or later, humanity will create artificial superintelligence with powers that are orders of magnitude greater than anything we currently possess. These enhanced powers would bring humanity even closer to the domain of the gods of bygone legends. These powers might even enable technological resurrection.

Some details

In more detail: Profound new engineering capabilities might become available that can bridge remote sections of space and time – perhaps utilising the entanglement features of quantum physics, perhaps creating and exploiting relativistic “wormholes”, or perhaps involving unimagined novel scientific principles. These bridges might allow selected “copying” of consciousness from just before the moment of death, into refined bodies constructed in the far future ready to receive such consciousness. As Jonathan Jones explores, this copying might take place in ways that circumvent the time travel paradoxes that often feature in science fiction.

That’s a lot of “mights” and “maybes”. However, when contemplating the range of ideas for what might happen to consciousness after physical death, it would be wise to include this option. Beyond our deathbed, we might awaken to find ourselves in a state akin to paradise – surrounded by resurrected family and friends. Born 1945, died 2020, resurrected 2085? Born 1895, died 1917, resurrected 2087?

The book contains a number of speculative short stories to whet readers’ appetites to continue this exploration. These stories add colour to what is already a colourful, imaginative book. The artistic license is grounded in a number of solid references to science, philosophy, psychology, and history. For example, there’s a particularly good section on Russian “cosmist” thinkers. There’s a review of how films and novels have dealt with similar ideas over the decades. And the book is brought up to date with a discussion of contemporary transhumanists, including Ray Kurzweil, Ben Goertzel, Jose Cordeiro, and Giulio Prisco.

Futurists like to ask three questions about forthcoming scenarios. Are they credible (as opposed to being mere flights of fantasy). Are they actionable, in that individual human actions could alter their probability of occurring. And are they desirable.

All three questions get an airing in the pages of the book Jonathan Jones has written. To keep matters short, for now I’ll focus on the third question.

The third question

The idea of technological resurrection could provide much-needed solace, for people whose lives otherwise seem wretched. Perhaps death will cease to be viewed as a one-way ticket to eternal oblivion. What’s more, the world might benefit mightily from a new common quest to advance human capability, safely, beyond the existential perils of modern social angst, towards being able to make technological resurrection a reality. That’s a shared purpose which would help humanity transcend our present-day pettiness. It’s a route to make humanity truly great.

However, from other points of view, the idea of technological resurrection could be viewed as an unhelpful distraction. Similar to how religion was criticised by Karl Marx as being “the opium of the people” – an illusory “pie in the sky when you die” – the vague prospect of technological resurrection could dissuade people from taking important steps to secure or improve long-term health prospects. It might prevent them from:

  • Investigating and arranging cryonics support standby services
  • Channelling funds and resources to those researchers who may be on the point of abolishing aging
  • Encouraging the adoption of health-promoting lifestyles, economic policies, and beneficial diets and supplements
  • Accelerating the roll-out of technoprogressive measures that will raise people around the world out of relative poverty and into relative prosperity.

Finally, the idea of technological resurrection may also fill some minds with dread and foreboding – if they realise that devious, horrible actions from their past, which they believed were secret, might become more widely known by a future superintelligence. If that superintelligence has the inclination to inflict a punitive (hellish) resurrection, well, things gain a different complexion.

There’s a great deal more that deserves to be said about technological resurrection. I’m already thinking of organising some public meetings on this topic. In the meantime, I urge readers to explore the book Jonathan Jones has written. That book serves up its big ideas in ways that are playful, entertaining, and provocative. But the ideas conveyed by the light-hearted text may live in your mind long after you have closed the book.

PS I’ve addressed some of these questions from a different perspective in Chapter 12, “Radical alternatives”, of my own 2016 book “The Abolition of Aging”.

16 November 2017

TransVision 2017: A recommitment to the Technoprogressive Declaration

Filed under: TransVision, YouTube — Tags: , , — David Wood @ 10:30 pm

The organisers of TransVision 2017, which took place in Brussels 9th-11th November, issued a press release after the event concluded. I’m including a copy of the text below, in both English and French versions. Please also find below:

Note that TransVision 2018 will take place in Madrid, Spain, between 19th-21st October. Mark your calendars!

English text of press release

Transhumanists from 20 countries and 4 continents are united around a technoprogressive statement

Meeting in Brussels at the initiative of the French Transhumanist Association – Technoprog for the international conference TransVision, the participants recall that:

The world is unacceptably unequal and dangerous. Emerging technologies could make things dramatically better or worse. Unfortunately, too few people yet understand the dimensions of both the threats and rewards that humanity faces. It is time for technoprogressives, transhumanists and futurists to step up our political engagement and attempt to influence the course of events.

They add

Our vision includes a sustainable abundance of: clean energy, healthy food, material goods and shelter, affordable healthcare, all-round intelligence and mental well-being, and time for creativity – enabled by the application of converging technologies, with no-one left behind.

In this context, they urge that the longevity objective be taken into account by the World Health Organization in the framework of the Thirteenth General Program of Work (2019–2023) (to let it know, react here)

They symbolically offered transhumanist clothes to Manneken Pis, the oldest and rejuvenated citizen of Brussels.

Future activities are being organized. A common calendar will soon be established. The next TransVision conference will be held in Madrid from 19 to 21 October 2018.

Marc Roux, President of the Association Française Transhumaniste – Technoprog
Didier Coeurnelle, Vice President
transhumanistes.com
contact@transhumanistes.com

French text of press release

Transvision 2017: Des Transhumanistes de 20 pays et de 4 continents s’unissent autour d’une déclaration technoprogressiste

Réunis à Bruxelles à l’initiative notamment de l’Association Française Transhumaniste – Technoprog pour le colloque international TransVision, les participants rappellent que:

Le monde est de manière inacceptable inégalitaire et dangereux. Les technologies émergentes pourraient le rendre largement meilleur, ou bien pire. Malheureusement, trop peu de gens comprennent aujourd’hui la dimension des menaces ou des bienfaits auxquels l’humanité doit faire face. Il est temps pour les technoprogressistes, les transhumanistes et les prospectivistes de renforcer leur engagement politique afin de tenter d’influer sur le cours des événements.

Ils ajoutent:

Notre vision inclut une abondance durable d’énergie propre, de nourriture saine, de biens matériels, de soins de santé abordables, d’intelligence globale, de bien-être mental, de temps de créativité – permis par une application des technologies convergentes, sans laisser personne sur le côté.

Dans ce cadre ils invitent notamment à ce que l’objectif de longévité soit pris en compte par l’Organisation mondiale de la santé dans le cadre de son treizième programme général de travail (2019–2023) (pour le faire savoir, réagissez ici).

Ils ont offert des vêtements transhumanistes à Manneken-Pis exprimant le souhait d’une vie beaucoup plus longue en bonne santé pour tous.

Pour les activités à venir, un calendrier commun sera établi. La prochaine conférence TransVision se tiendra à Madrid du 19 au 21 octobre 2018.

Marc Roux, président de l’Association française transhumaniste – Technoprog
Didier Coeurnelle, vice-président
transhumanistes.com
contact@transhumanistes.com

Vlog#1 from TransVision 2017

2017 update to the Technoprogressive Declaration

Attendees at TransVision 2017 recommitted to the Technoprogressive Declaration, as published during TransVision 2014 at https://ieet.org/index.php/IEET2/more/tpdec2014. For convenience, a copy of this Declaration is supplied below.

It was agreed to provide some clarifications and explanations:

  1. Our vision includes a sustainable abundance of: clean energy, healthy food, material goods and shelter, affordable healthcare, all-round intelligence and mental well-being, and time for creativity – enabled by application of converging technologies, with no-one left behind
  2. Alongside the well-known transhumanist intentions for superlongevity, superintelligence, and super wellbeing, we additionally emphasise the importance of “super society” – by which term is implied improvements in resilience, solidarity, and democracy, whilst upholding diversity and liberty
  3. We envision a renewal of democracy in which, rather than the loudest and richest voices prevailing, the best insights of the community are elevated and actioned
  4. A vital function of democracy is for political representatives to be periodically held to account, thus ensuring they keep in mind the wellbeing of all citizens rather than just the desires of an elite; also of great importance is that democracy involves peaceful transitions of power
  5. A healthy democracy requires a free press and independent judiciary, and will be assisted by the wise application of technological innovation
  6. Systems for regulation of technology need to be adaptive and agile, rather than heavyweight and anachronistic
  7. We urge education to include, at all ages, skills in bridge-building, emotional intelligence, managing change, and learning how to learn
  8. We reject any hard distinction between “therapies” and “enhancement” as championed by bioconservatives; society benefits not just from interventions that raise individuals to the current average level of health and wellness, but also from interventions that raise the average level higher
  9. Whereas all persons should be liberated from work that is “toil”, we uphold the principle that hard work can bring many benefits, both socially and personally
  10. As technology provides greater levels of sentience and sapience to non-human animals and synthetic life forms, we stand ready to extend the rights of personhood to these enhanced brethren of ours on the journey to greater consciousness and greater enlightenment.

Copy of the Technoprogressive Declaration

The world is unacceptably unequal and dangerous. Emerging technologies could make things dramatically better or worse. Unfortunately too few people yet understand the dimensions of both the threats and rewards that humanity faces. It is time for technoprogressives, transhumanists and futurists to step up our political engagement and attempt to influence the course of events.

Our core commitment is that both technological progress and democracy are required for the ongoing emancipation of humanity from its constraints. Partisans of the promises of the Enlightenment, we have many cousins in other movements for freedom and social justice. We must build solidarity with these movements, even as we intervene to point to the radical possibilities of technologies that they often ignore. With our fellow futurists and transhumanists we must intervene to insist that technologies are well-regulated and made universally accessible in strong and just societies. Technology could exacerbate inequality and catastrophic risks in the coming decades, or especially if democratized and well-regulated, ensure longer, healthy and more enabled lives for growing numbers of people, and a stronger and more secure civilization.

Beginning with our shared commitment to individual self-determination we can build solidarity with

  • Organizations defending workers and the unemployed, as technology transforms work and the economy
  • The movement for reproductive rights, around access to contraception, abortion, assisted reproduction and genomic choice
  • The movement for drug law reform around the defense of cognitive liberty
  • The disability rights movement around access to assistive and curative technologies
  • Sexual and gender minorities around the right to bodily self-determination
  • Digital rights movements around new freedoms and means of expression and organization

We call for dramatically expanded governmental research into anti-aging therapies, and universal access to those therapies as they are developed in order to make much longer and healthier lives accessible to everybody. We believe that there is no distinction between “therapies” and “enhancement.” The regulation of drugs and devices needs reform to speed their approval.

As artificial intelligence, robotics and other technologies increasingly destroy more jobs than they create, and senior citizens live longer, we must join in calling for a radical reform of the economic system. All persons should be liberated from the necessity of the toil of work. Every human being should be guaranteed an income, healthcare, and life-long access to education.

We must join in working for the expansion of rights to all persons, human or not.

We must join with movements working to reduce existential risks, educating them about emerging threats they don’t yet take seriously, and proposing ways that emerging technologies can help reduce those risks. Transnational cooperation can meet the man-made and natural threats that we face.

It is time for technoprogressives to step forward and work together for a brighter future.

 

7 November 2017

Press Release: TransVision 2017, 9-11 November

Filed under: Humanity Plus, TransVision — Tags: , , — David Wood @ 11:25 pm

Brussels | Thursday November 9, Friday November 10, Saturday November 11

Representatives of the major European transhumanist associations will be meeting at the TransVision 2017 symposium held at the Grand Café Muntpunt, right in the centre of Brussels:

  • Day 1 = Reports on the situation and the evolution of transhumanist thought and transhumanist organisations
  • Day 2 = Working groups exploring proposals for future projects
  • Day 3 = Conclusions: the future of transhumanism and the politics of emerging technologies

Journalists are welcome to contact contact@transhumanistes.com in order to attend the symposium.

Journalists can meet and interview the following speakers and participants (among others):

  • Anders Sandberg – Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University
  • Angel Marchev – University for National and World Economy, Sofia
  • Chris Moneteiro – H+Pedia manager, TPUK official, and cybercrime researcher
  • David Pearce ­– Co-founder of Humanity+ (originally the World Transhumanist Association)
  • David Wood – Chair of London Futurists, and Executive Director of Transpolitica
  • Didier Coeurnelle – Co-chair of Heales Healthy Life Extension Society
  • James Hughes – Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
  • Jose Cordeiro –Founding faculty of the Singularity University, and Director of Humanity+
  • Marc Roux – French Association Française Transhumaniste – Technoprog
  • Marcel A. Mayr – Futurist, Transhuman Party Germany
  • Riccardo Campa – Associazione Transumanisti Italiani
  • Valeryia Udalova (Pride) ­– Russian Transhumanist Movement, and CEO of CryoRus
  • Waldemar Ingdahl ­– Spokesperson for Humanity+ Sweden

Please feel free to forward this announcement to any journalist you think might be interested in this event.

For more information about the event, see transvision-conference.org.  For information about previous TransVision conferences (dating back to 1998), see hpluspedia.org/wiki/TransVision.

2 July 2017

If your Windows 10 laptop doesn’t connect to websites

Filed under: Connectivity, Microsoft — Tags: , , , — David Wood @ 1:31 pm

What should you do if your Windows 10 laptop fails to connect to any website? With the same problem in both Chrome and Microsoft Edge?

Suppose, like me, you’ve rebooted your laptop several times, rebooted your home broadband wireless router, and also tried connecting to websites over the cellular SIM that is built into the laptop. All with no avail. What next?

You’d probably, like me, run the Windows Network Diagnostics tool. But what if that fails to report any problems?

That was the situation I was in last night. My laptop had been off the network for a while, as it rendered a 14GB MP4 file from recordings from yesterday’s London Futurists event. (This one, if you’re curious.) But when I was ready to upload the file to YouTube, I hit the connection problem.

As it happens, my laptop is a bit over six years well. It has served me well. But it gets pretty hot from time to time – especially when processing videos. I started to suspect that the heat may have damaged an internal connector. That’s despite the fact that the BIOS diagnostics tests gave the machine a clean bill of health.

I even spent some time disabling anti-virus software. That didn’t make any difference. Nor did leaving the laptop alone, switched off for six hours to cool down as I slept.

At this stage I was beginning to plan the process of buying a new laptop. I went to press the Windows “Shut down” button one more time. I noticed that the button actually said “Update Windows and Shut down”.

Well, I hadn’t been expecting any Windows update. Three days earlier, I’d already been through a very lengthy process of installing something called “Windows 10 Creators Update” – a process I’d accepted on the prompting of messages sent to me by Microsoft through my laptop.

(Did I say ‘lengthy’? A one point during that Creators Update my laptop had displayed a screen for more than two hours saying something like “This will take a while”. The percentage done indicator stayed at 1% for a full 15 minutes, before ticking up to 2%.)

This second update, which took place this morning, also took ages. I stared at my laptop as it warned me, “Getting Windows ready. Don’t turn off your computer”.

After around 30 minutes, I was almost ready to ignore the advice. Before reaching for the hardware reset button, though, I decided to attend to some other household tasks. By the time I returned to my laptop, it was inviting me to log in. Twenty minutes later, I was back online. Chrome was showing me webpages again. Hooray!

In short, my guess is that Microsoft was doing some kind of mass software download to my laptop, at the time I was trying to connect to websites, and for some reason, the Microsoft traffic was exclusively prioritised higher than mine. Too bad that the diagnostic tool gave no inkling of what might be happening.

I notice a recent headline in The Register: “Don’t install our buggy Windows 10 Creators Update, begs Microsoft”. The sub-headline follows up:

We’ll give it to you when it’s ready – and it is not.

My own experience seems to back up that message: the new software can struggle on older hardware.

Windows 10 users take note!

As a postscript, the YouTube video is now available:

25 June 2017

12 months progress in radical life extension: RAADfest 2016 & 2017

The few days that I spent at RAADfest 2016, August 4-7 last year, were a wake-up call for me, in a very pleasant way.

RAAD stands for “Revolution Against Aging and Death”. It’s a bold name, for a set of big ideas that have to fight an uphill battle in a world that is, sadly, predisposed to find a kind of reconciliation with aging and death.

Critically, RAADfest is more than a set of ideas. It’s a community of people – the Coalition for Radical Life Extension – which exists both as a formal organisation and as a broader informal network. The “fest” part of the name is short for “festival”. RAADfest 2016 featured a combination of presentations, discussions, and art performances. The result was to highlight scientific progress, celebrate personal experiences, and to debate candidly about issues and opportunities.

RAADfest 2016 was also a chance for participants to reflect on the positive examples provided by the lifestyles and the projects of other attendees. What might we learn from each others’ experiences and achievements? That was where the wake-up call could be heard.

So what have we learned since last August? And what are the next steps?

With these questions in mind, I recently took part in a video conversation with Jim Strole, Director of the Coalition for Radical Life Extension and RAADfest.

The two of us looked forward to a bigger, longer RAADfest taking place this year, August 9-13. I’ll have the honour of chairing one of the key panels at that event. I’ll be asking a number of distinguished experts on healthy life extension questions about progress since the inaugural RAADfest twelve months previous:

  • What has happened faster than you expected?
  • What has happened slower than you expected?
  • What took you completely by surprise?
  • And in the light of these lessons, what do you recommend is done differently in the next twelve months?

It’s a long journey from the UK all the way to San Diego, southern California, where RAADfest will be taking place. But, judging from what happened at the event last year, that long journey could well be a gateway into a much better future.

To gain a fuller idea of the topics that will be included at RAADfest 2017, you can find a whole series of short videos of “RAADfest preview conversations” on YouTube.

Important: If you register by July 16th, using the discount code FUTURISTS, you can obtain tickets for just $497, rather than the current headline price of $692.

Postscript 1: If you can’t wait until August…

If you can’t wait until August before taking a deep dive into the question of how technology can abolish aging, let me draw your attention to a talk I’ll be giving on Monday evening (26th June) in a venue in Brick Lane, London E1.

I’ll be describing what I see as a credible roadmap to abolish aging by 2040. Click here to read more about this talk, and to register to attend. I’ll be building up to explaining the content of the near-balance of conflicting forces depicted as follows:

Postscript 2: More interested in AI and sustainability?

In case you’re more interested in AI and sustainability than in the radical extension of healthspans, note that the London Futurists event at Birkbeck College next Saturday (1st July) is “The future of AI and sustainability, with Alex Housley”:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is powering the fourth industrial revolution. Intelligent machines are tackling new cognitive tasks at scale, leading to enormous economic efficiency gains and disruption across the labour market. But what will be the net impact of AI on society and the ecological environment?

In this talk, Alex Housley, founder of open-source machine learning platform Seldon, will explain how the collaborative approach to AI development helps transform industries and provides the macro-scale opportunities for AI to make the world a better and more sustainable place.

Questions to be considered will include:

  • What role can AI play in the transition to a sustainable economy?
  • What successes can we already identify, with AI systems improving uses of energy, waste recycling, and the circular economy?
  • What extra results can reasonably be expected, with future enhancements in AI?

For more details, click here.

14 March 2017

Public events – chances to watch me speak

Here are a few places I’ll be speaking at public events over the next few weeks.

If you happen to be in one of these neighbourhoods, and the timing works for you, it would be great to see you there.

(1) Funzing experience, London EC2A 4JH, Tues 25th April

I’ve only recently found out about Funzing. They connect event hosts and event guests, to allow more people to discover and share experiences that are engaging, interesting, and (yes) fun. Categories of experience on offer include tours and walks, comedy and music shows, craft and DIY workshops, and inspiring talks and lectures.

As an experiment, I’m speaking at one of these events on Tuesday 25th April. My topic will be “Can we abolish aging?”

By 2040, could we have abolished what we now know as biological aging?

It’s a big “if”, but if we decide as a species to make this project a priority, there’s around a 50% chance that practical rejuvenation therapies resulting in the comprehensive reversal of aging will be widely available as early as 2040.

People everywhere, on the application of these treatments, will, if they wish, stop becoming biologically older. Instead, again if they wish, they’ll start to become biologically younger, in both body and mind, as rejuvenation therapies take hold. In short, everyone will have the option to become ageless.

This suggestion tends to provoke two powerful objections. First, people say that it’s not possible that such treatments are going to exist in any meaningful timescale any time soon. In other words, they insist that human rejuvenation can’t be done. It’s wishful thinking to suppose otherwise, they say. It’s bad science. It’s naively over-optimistic. It’s ignorant of the long history of failures in this field. The technical challenges remain overwhelmingly difficult.

Secondly, people say that any such treatments would be socially destructive and morally indefensible. In other words, they insist that human rejuvenation shouldn’t be done. It’s essentially a selfish idea, they say – an idea with all kinds of undesirable consequences for societal harmony or planetary well-being. It’s an arrogant idea, from immature minds. It’s an idea that deserves to be strangled.

Can’t be done; shouldn’t be done – this talk will argue that both these objections are profoundly wrong. The speaker will argue instead that rejuvenation is a noble, highly desirable, eminently practical destiny for our species – a “Humanity+” destiny that could be achieved within just one human generation from now. The abolition of aging is set to take its place on the upward arc of human social progress, echoing developments such as the abolition of slavery, the abolition of racism, and the abolition of poverty…

Funzing clock

For more details, visit the Funzing event page.

Note: you can use the code ‘david10‘ for 10% discount from the normal Funzing entry fee.

For details of other events where I’ll be speaking on themes related to radical extension of healthy life expectancy, keep your eyes on this list.

(2) The future of politics, Manchester, Fri 24th March

Manchester Futurists were founded in January this year, announcing themselves to the world as follows:

We are fascinated by how technological advancement will shape the future, and the social, ethical and economic challenges humanity will face. Come talk about it with us!

We plan to hold regular meetups that introduce concepts relating to futurism, followed by an informal discussion on the subject. Probably followed by the pub 🙂 …

We aim to take an evidence-based approach and avoid pseudoscience. We believe social justice is important to a utopian future, and where appropriate will discuss intersections with feminism, racism, etc…

Join us to exercise your brain, discuss the future and meet people with a passion for technology!

I’ll be their guest speaker on Friday 24th March. Click here for more details and to RSVP.

It will be a chance for me to share some ideas from my forthcoming new book “Fixing Politics: A Technoprogressive Roadmap to a Radically Better Future”.

Cover v2

(This placeholder book cover design is intended to suggest that our political infrastructure is in a perilous state of ruin.)

(3) The case for transhumanism, Brighton, Tues 11th April

On the evening of Tuesday 11th April I’ll be the guest speaker at Brighton Skeptics in the Cafe, presenting the case for transhumanism.

Three logos

Here’s a collection of good definitions of transhumanism, taken from H+Pedia:

  • “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” – Max More, 1990
  • “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” – Transhumanist FAQ
  • “Transhumanism is the philosophy that we can and should develop to higher levels, both physically, mentally and socially using rational methods” – Anders Sandberg, 1997
  • “Transhumanists view human nature as a work-in-progress, a half-baked beginning that we can learn to remould in desirable ways. Current humanity need not be the endpoint of evolution. Transhumanists hope that by responsible use of science, technology, and other rational means we shall eventually manage to become posthuman beings with vastly greater capacities than present human beings have” – Nick Bostrom, 2003
  • “Transhumanism promotes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and evaluating the opportunities for enhancing the human condition and the human organism opened up by the advancement of technology; attention is given to both present technologies, like genetic engineering and information technology, and anticipated future ones, such as molecular nanotechnology and artificial intelligence” – Nick Bostrom, 2003
  • “Transhumanism is the science-based movement that seeks to transcend human biological limitations via technology” – Philippe van Nedervelde, 2015
  • “Transhumanism anticipates tomorrow’s humanity: Envisaging the positive qualities and characteristics of future intelligent life; Taking steps towards achieving these qualities and characteristics; Identifying and managing risks of negative characteristics of future intelligent life” – Transpolitica website, 2015

At the event, I’ll be setting out my personal vision of “Transhumanism for all”:

  • “Transhumanist benefits for all” – The tremendous benefits of new technology should become available to anyone who wishes to take advantage of them (rather than being restricted to the well off or the well connected)
  • “Transhumanist thinking for all” – The core transhumanist memes should become understood, accepted, and endorsed by a wider and wider set of people, from all walks of life, en route to becoming the default worldview in more and more areas of society.

(4) Artificial Intelligence transforming healthcare, Lyon, Wed 5th April

Biovision Full

Biovision is holding a World Life Sciences Forum from 4th to 6th April in Lyon, France:

This year’s topic in ‘From Global health to One health’. One health is “the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines – working locally, nationally, and globally – to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment”.

The event will have six main themes:

  • Global medical education & training
  • Digital health and innovation for sustainable healthcare
  • Emerging viral diseases
  • Animal health
  • Innovative technologies
  • Science of metagenomics.

I’ll be part of a multi-talented panel on the Wednesday: “Artificial Intelligence: A generous revolution serving health”.

For more details, click here.

(5) Postscript – forthcoming London Futurists events

Don’t forget that London Futurists regularly hold discussion events on Saturday afternoons in Birkbeck College, central London. I chair these events to help ensure a rich flow of questions and answers.

Forthcoming London Futurists events are listed here (with links to more information):

The event this Saturday features Azeem Azhar, the curator and publisher of the phenomenally interesting weekly newsletter “The Exponential View”. Azeem’s topic is “The age of technology has arrived. Now what?”

LonFut AA 18 March 2017.png

 

1 January 2017

The best books I read in 2016

Antidotes to the six horsemen of the Trumpocalypse

Here’s one of my deeply held beliefs. We owe it to ourselves to take best advantage of the insights and experiences of those who have gone before us. Where researchers have seen more clearly or understood more deeply than their predecessors or contemporaries, we should pay special attention to their words and concepts. Where these researchers have written books that make accessible key aspects of their hard-won expertise, we should prioritise finding the time to read these books.

But in 2016, not everyone agreed that expertise is worth attention. Experts are over-rated, we heard. The elites deserve a comeuppance.

That sentiment is an ominous echo of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and its opposition to the “four olds” – a revolution which, between the years 1966-1976, resulted in horrific damage to the country and many millions of deaths. A later candid assessment by the Chinese government described that period of wilful ignorance as being

Responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic.

I have no truck for those rabble-rousers who declared in 2016 that “we have had enough of experts”. I choose expertise every time, over wishful thinking, hearsay, and dogmatism. I choose to keep on educating myself in the arts of critical thinking, rather than bowing my honest opinion to the rants of the populist press or the false certainties of the demagogues in our midst.

At a time where the six dreadful horsemen of the Trumpocalypse are gathering speed – when perverse interactions are growing more unpredictable between radical over-confidence, divisive boasts of “my tribe first”, enthralment to personal egos, trigger-happy vindictiveness, shameless lying, and fake news designed to inflame rather than to enlighten – we need calm, rational, evidence-based thinking more than ever.

The hard thing, of course, is knowing where true expertise really lies. It can be difficult to distinguish the trustworthy experts from self-declared “experts”. And it is important to perceive the limitations of the expertise of any one person or any one discipline. Thankfully, these tasks can be aided  group intelligence, as we collectively develop an appreciation for which writers are the most reliable in particular areas.

In that spirit, I list below the books that I read and rated as “5 stars” during 2016 on GoodReads. I tend to rate books that highly if:

  • They contain novel material which addresses highly important themes
  • They are well-written – giving good evidence and rationale for the points of view they advance
  • They maintained my interest all the way to the end of the book.

Hopefully my brief reviews will provide some inspiration to guide you in your own reading, research, and projects during 2017. Do let me know.

(Click on any book cover below, to visit the GoodReads page for the book.)

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

homo-deus

Written by Yuval Noah Harari. Of all the books on my list, this is the one that provides the largest perspective. This book explains how the three terrible scourges which have confronted humans throughout history – plague, famine, and war – will be replaced in the 21st century by three huge new projects, labelled as “immortality”, “happiness”, and “divinity”. Here are three brief quotes from Harari’s book on these grand projects:

  • “Struggling against old age and death will merely carry on the time-honoured fight against famine and disease, and manifest the supreme value of contemporary culture: the worth of human life… Modern science and modern culture don’t think of death as a metaphysical mystery, and they certainly don’t view death as the source of life’s meaning. Rather, for modern people death is a technical problem that we can and should solve”
  • “Being happy doesn’t come easy. Despite our unprecedented achievements in the last few decades, it is far from obvious that contemporary people are significantly more satisfied than their ancestors in bygone years. Indeed, it is an ominous sign that despite higher prosperity, comfort and security, the rate of suicide in the developed world is also much higher than in traditional societies… The bad news is that pleasant sensations quickly subside and sooner or later turn into unpleasant ones… This is all the fault of evolution. For countless generations our biochemical system adapted to increasing our chances of survival and reproduction, not our happiness”
  • “In seeking bliss and immortality humans are in fact trying to upgrade themselves into gods. Not just because these are divine qualities, but because in order to overcome old age and misery humans will first have to acquire godlike control of their own biological substratum… If we ever have the power to engineer death and pain out of our system, that same power will probably be sufficient to engineer our system in almost any manner we like, and manipulate our organs, emotions and intelligence in myriad ways. You could buy for yourself the strength of Hercules, the sensuality of Aphrodite, the wisdom of Athena or the madness of Dionysus if that is what you are into.”

Harari’s book also makes plain that these projects risk enormous upheavals in society – potentially facturing humanity into “the near gods” and “the near useless”. Even that thought isn’t the largest in the book. He writes near the end:

  • “The Internet-of-All-Things may soon create such huge and rapid data flows that even upgraded human algorithms cannot handle it. When the car replaced the horse-drawn carriage, we didn’t upgrade the horses – we retired them. Perhaps it is time to do the same with Homo sapiens…”
  • “When genetic engineering and artificial intelligence reveal their full potential, liberalism, democracy and free markets might become as obsolete as flint knives, tape cassettes, Islam and communism.”

I therefore pick Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow as the single most profound book of 2016.

Note: I presented a personal review of this book near the start of a London Futurists event on the 4th of October. Here’s a video recording:
.

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease

the-story-of-the-human-body

Written by Daniel E. Lieberman. This book shares with Homo Deus the fact that it has an enormous scope. It casts a careful eye back over the long prehistory of human (and hominid) evolution, and draws fascinating conclusions about problems of disease and health experienced by people in the 21st century.

The book presents a wealth of compelling evidence about the various stages of evolution between ape and modern-day human. It also introduces the concepts of “dysevolution” and “mismatch diseases”. Aspects of human nature that made great sense in our previous environments sit uneasily in the new environments in which we now exist. This includes aspects of our physiology and aspects of our psychology.

To what extent can these aspects of our physiology and psychology be re-engineered, using 21st century skills in genetics, nanotech, 3D printing, smart drugs, and so so? Lieberman is cautious in drawing conclusions, suggesting that we’ll find it easier to re-engineer our environment than to reengineer ourselves. His view deserves attention, even though I believe he underestimates the pace of forthcoming technological change.

The Industries of the Future

the-industries-of-the-future

Written by Alec J. Ross, who spent four years working as Senior Advisor for Innovation to the Hilary Clinton when she was Secretary of State for Defence. The style of writing is highly accessible to people in political roles – whether in office, in the civil service, or in an advisory capacity.

The subjects Ross covers – including robots, genomics, cryptocurrency, cyberwarfare, big data, and the Internet of Things – can also be found in books by other futurists. But he provides a refreshingly international perspective, highlighting ways in which different parts of the world are adapting (or failing to adapt) to various technological trends. He also has a candid view on potential downsides to these technology trends, alongside their potential upsides. He gives plenty of reasons for believing that there will many large changes ahead, but he emphasises that the actual outcomes will need careful shepherding.

If Hilary Clinton had become the US President, I would have felt comfortable in knowing that she could draw on insight about future trends from such a well-informed, balanced advisor. This is not an author who offers brash over-confidence or wishful thinking.

Bitcoin: the Future of Money?

bitcoin-the-future-of-money

Written by Dominic Frisby. Bitcoin, along with its underlying “blockchain” technology, remains the subject of a great deal of speculation as 2016 draws to a close. I read a number of books on this topic in the last 12 months. Of these books, this was the one I enjoyed the most.

Frisby has a pleasant conversational style, but also has an eye for the big picture. Bitcoin/blockchain is too important a topic to ignore. The biggest disruptions it creates may well be in areas outside of present-day mainstream focus.

London Futurists will be returning to Bitcoin and/or blockchain several times in the months ahead. Watch this space!

The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts

the-future-of-the-professions

Written by by Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind. This book provides a comprehensive account of how technology and automation are transforming work within professions such as law, auditing, education, architecture, healthcare, accounting, and the clergy.

The writers – a father and son – have been researching this field since the 1980s. They have interviewed leading practitioners from numerous professions, and are fully aware of the arguments as to why automation will slow down in its impact on the workforce. They assess these arguments at great length (perhaps almost too fully), and give strong reasons why all professions will, on the contrary, be significantly transformed by ever-more powerful software in the decades ahead. As they make clear, this is not something to be feared, but is something that will provide low-cost high-quality expertise to ever-larger numbers of people – rather than such expertise being accessible to the wealthy.

Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work

inventing-the-future

Written by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. This book makes a powerful case that movements for political change need to find a powerful over-arching positive vision. Merely “occupying” and “criticising” isn’t going to take things very far.

The vision offered in this book is that automation, rather than being seen as a threat to jobs, should be embraced as a precondition for a new society in which people no longer need to work.

Note: the authors gave a presentation about their ideas at a London Futurists event on the 20th of August. Here’s the video recording from that event:

The Economic Singularity: Artificial intelligence and the death of capitalism

the-economic-singularity

Written by Calum Chace. This book is the third on my list that focuses on technological unemployment as caused by automation and AI (artificial intelligence). Of the three, it’s probably the easiest to read, and the one that paints the widest context.

Like Srnicek and Williams (the authors of Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work), Chace foresees that technological unemployment may portend the end of capitalism. Whether this forthcoming “Economic Singularity” will be a positive or negative development remains to be seen. The Economic Singularity therefore shares some of the characteristics of the “Technological Singularity”, which Chace also covers in this book.

Note: the author gave a presentation on his ideas to London Futurists on the 8th of October. Here’s the video recording:
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The Gene: An Intimate History

the-gene-an-intimate-history

Written by Siddhartha Mukherjee. This book covers the history of ideas and experiments on the subject of genetic inheritance, from the thinkers of ancient Greece right up to the latest research. Along the way, the author weaves in accounts from the medical experiences of his own family members that suffered from inherited diseases. He is a compelling story-teller. He is also an accomplished cancer physician, with training from Stanford University, University of Oxford, Harvard Medical School, and Columbia University Medical Center.

I was familiar with many of the historical episodes from my own prior reading, but I learnt a great deal from the additional material assembled by Mukherjee – for example about the attempts at different times by eugenics enthusiasts to alter society by human interference with “natural selection”. The book is particularly strong on the interplay of nature and nurture.

I also appreciated the way the author highlighted the drawbacks of the haphazard quality control  in the early experiments in gene replacement therapies – experiments with tragic consequences. The lack of care in these experiments led to an understandable institutional backlash which arguably set back this field of therapies by around a decade.

By the time I read this book, I had already published my own book “The Abolition of Aging: The forthcoming radical extension of healthy human longevity”. I was relieved to find no reason to alter any of the conclusions or recommendations in my book as a result of the magisterial quantity of research reviewed by Mukherjee.

The Youth Pill: Scientists at the Brink of an Anti-Aging Revolution

the-youth-pill

Written by David Stipp. During the course of writing my own book “The Abolition of Aging” I consulted many books on medical treatments for anti-aging. I read this particular book all the way through, twice, at different stages of my research.

Stipp has been writing on the subject of medicine and aging for leading publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Fortune since the early 1980s. Over that time, he has built up an impressive set of contacts within the industry.

Stipp’s book is full of fascinating nuggets of insight, including useful biographical background details about many of the researchers who are pushing back the boundaries of knowledge in what is still a relatively young field.

Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World

inhuman-bondage

Written by David Brion Davis. This sweeping account of the history of slavery draws on many decades of the author’s research as one of the preeminent researchers in the field. The book interweaves heart-rending accounts with careful reflection. This is a story that includes both dreadful low points and inspiring high points of human behaviour. There’s a great deal to be learned from it.

Davis quotes with approval the prominent Irish historian W.E.H. Lecky who concluded in 1869 that:

The unwearied, unostentatious, and inglorious crusade of England against slavery very may probably be regarded as among the three or four perfectly virtuous acts recorded in the history of nations.

The thorough analysis by Davis makes it clear that:

  • The abolition of slavery was by no means inevitable or predetermined
  • There were strong arguments against the abolition of slavery – arguments raised by clever, devout people in both the United States and the United Kingdom – arguments concerning economic well-being, among many other factors
  • The arguments of the abolitionists were rooted in a conception of a better way of being a human – a way that avoided the harsh bondage and subjugation of the slave trade, and which would in due course enable many millions of people to fulfil a much greater potential
  • The cause of the abolition of slavery was significantly advanced by public activism – including pamphlets, lectures, petitions, and municipal meetings
  • The abolition of slavery cannot be properly understood without appreciating the significance of moral visions that “could transcend narrow self-interest and achieve genuine reform.”

On reason I read this book was to consider the strengths of a comparison I wanted to make in my own writing: a comparison between the abolition of slavery and the abolition of aging. My conclusion is that the comparison is a good one – although I recognise that some readers find it shocking:

  • With its roots in the eighteenth century, and growing in momentum as the nineteenth century proceeded, the abolition of slavery eventually became an idea whose time had come – thanks to brave, smart, persistent activism by men and women with profound conviction
  • With a different set of roots in the late twentieth century, and growing in momentum as the twenty-first century proceeds, the abolition of aging can, likewise, become an idea whose time has come. It’s an idea about an overwhelmingly better future for humanity – a future that will allow billions of people to fulfil a much greater potential. But as well as excellent engineering – the creation of reliable, accessible rejuvenation therapies – this project will also require brave, smart, persistent activism, to change the public landscape from one hostile (or apathetic) to rejuveneering into one that deeply supports it.

American Amnesia: Business, Government, and the Forgotten Roots of Our Prosperity

american-amnesia

Written by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. Many of the great social reforms of the last few centuries required sustained government action to make them happen. But governments need to work effectively alongside the remarkable capabilities of the market economy. Getting the right balance between these two primal forces is crucial.

The authors of this book defend a very interesting viewpoint, namely 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.

They explain the mixed economy by an elaboration of Adam Smith’s notion of “the invisible hand”:

The political economist Charles Lindblom once described markets as being like fingers: nimble and dexterous. Governments, with their capacity to exercise authority, are like thumbs: powerful but lacking subtlety and flexibility. The invisible hand is all fingers. The visible hand is all thumbs. Of course, one wouldn’t want to be all thumbs. But one wouldn’t want to be all fingers either. Thumbs provide countervailing power, constraint, and adjustments to get the best out of those nimble fingers.

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:

  • 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).

It’s a deeply troubling development that the positive role of enlightened government is something that is increasingly poorly understood. Instead, as a result of a hostile barrage of ideologically-driven misinformation, more and more people are calling for a reduction in the scope and power of government. This book describes that process as a form of collective “amnesia” (forgetfulness). It was one of the most frightening books I read in 2016.

In describing this book as “frightening”, I don’t mean that the book is bad. Far from it. What’s frightening is the 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.

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.

I wrote the following in July, in a Transpolitica review article “Flawed humanity, flawed politics”:

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.

I take no pleasure in what turned out to be the prescience of those remarks. That was a prediction where I did not want to be correct.

And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe’s Crisis and America’s Economic Future

and-the-weak-suffer-what-they-must

Written by Yanis Varoufakis. This book has some striking parallels with American Amnesia: the author provides an gripping survey of many parts of history that have consequences for the present time. Varoufakis focuses on the development of the European Union.

Time and again I discovered in the pages of this book important new aspects of events that I thought I already knew well, but where it turned out there were key connections that I had missed. In short, the book is full of powerful back stories to the current EU situation.

Whilst supporting many of the ideals of the EU, Varoufakis is an incisive critic of many of its aspects. Like the supporters of Brexit, he sees plenty that is deeply dysfunctional about  the current organisation of the EU. However, he believes that fixing the EU is both more practical and more desirable than turning our backs on it, and hoping to benefit from its likely subsequent unravelling. Varoufakis is one the leaders of the DiEM25 movement that describes itself as follows:

DiEM25 is a pan-European, cross-border movement of democrats.

We believe that the European Union is disintegrating. Europeans are losing their faith in the possibility of European solutions to European problems. At the same time as faith in the EU is waning, we see a rise of misanthropy, xenophobia and toxic nationalism.

If this development is not stopped, we fear a return to the 1930s. That is why we have come together despite our diverse political traditions – Green, radical left, liberal – in order to repair the EU. The EU needs to become a realm of shared prosperity, peace and solidarity for all Europeans. We must act quickly, before the EU disintegrates.

I expect the influence of DiEM25 to grow during the next few months, as the public discussion about the future of Europe becomes more contentious. They’re holding a public meeting in London on the evening of Friday 27th January:

A troubled Britain is on its way out of a troubled European Union. Disintegration and xenophobia are in the air. The government in London is in disarray. But so is every other government in Europe, not to mention the European Commission whose authority is tending increasingly towards zero.

The only forces to be gathering strength everywhere are those of what might be called a Nationalist International, spreading their belligerent reach to Trump’s America. Bellicose nativism is on the rise propagating a thinly-veiled discursive ethnic cleansing. Even sections of the Left are succumbing to arguments in favour of retreating behind the nation-state and stricter border controls.

Srećko Horvat, a Croat philosopher, Elif Shafak, renowned Turkish novelist, and Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister, bring to this conversation an intriguing perspective. As intellectuals who know Britain well, they understand first hand the perils of nationalism, disintegration, isolationism and marginalisation. They will place post-Brexit Britain in a context informed by a view of Europe and Britain from the continent’s opposite ‘corner’, sharing insights from Greece’s tensions with Brussels and Berlin, Yugoslavia’s disintegration, and Turkey’s fraught relationship with a Europe that both courts and marginalises it.

Moderated by Owen Jones, a passionate campaigner for a quite different Britain in a quite different Europe, it promises to be an evening that restores confidence in Britain’s and Europe’s humanist and internationalist potential.

I’m looking forward to it!

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice

red-notice

Written by Bill Browder. Any vision for a better future needs to include an assessment of the power and intentions of the regime of Vladimir Putin in Russia. Since there are many dark clouds on the international horizon, it’s understandable that some thinkers are clutching at straws of hope that Putin could become a reliable partner in the evolution of the international system. Perhaps. But any such thoughts need to be well aware of the horrific dark side of the Kremlin. We would be foolish to risk rose-tinted spectacles in this case.

This book provides ample documentation of many truly shocking abuses of power in Russia. Browder has an intriguing personal back story, which takes up the first half of the book. This part of the book explains how Browder’s investment fund Hermitage Capital, came to be the leading non-Russian participant in Russia companies following the wave of post-Soviet privatisations. It also explains Browder’s fierce legal conflicts with some of the Russian oligarchs, as Browder sought to prevent further fleecing of the assets of companies in which he had invested.

For a while, it seems that Putin supported what Browder was doing. But then Browder became an increasing annoyance to the Kremlin. What happens next is astonishing. Of all the books I read in 2016, this was the most gripping.

Browder is sometimes described as “Putin’s No. 1 enemy”. The book provides considerable justification for that claim. The story is by no means over. Browder continues to speak publicly about his story: I saw him speak at the Wired 2016 event in November in London. I commend the Wired organisers for having the breadth of vision to provide Browder with a key speaking slot.

Politics: Between the Extremes

politics-between-the-extremes

Written by Nick Clegg. Clegg is the former leader of the Liberal Democrat party who was deputy prime minister of the UK from 2010 to 2015. His subsequent fall from power, as the LibDems were trounced in the May 2015 general election, was harsh and bitter. Huge numbers of former supporters of the party turned against it.

Nevertheless, Clegg is one of the most thoughtful politicians in the UK today. His book includes candid assessments of the mistakes he made, and his regrets for not doing things differently. One of the biggest regrets is not paying more attention to matters of communication: the LibDems frequently failed to get the credit for important contributions to the coalition government. As such, the party was out-manoeuvred by more powerful forces.

The book is an eloquent appeal for greater “liberalism” in politics – less certainty and dogmatism, more tolerance of diversity, more openness to new opportunities, and more willingness to embrace tricky coalitions. Despite the notes of sadness in the book, there are real grounds for optimism too.

Clegg comes across in the book the same as I have observed from several public events where I have seen him speak at close hand – as an eminently likeable person, honest about his mistakes, with a passionate belief in better politics and a willingness to build bridges. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of him in 2017.

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

scrum

Written by Jeff Sutherland. No matter how much we improve our foresight skills, we’re still likely to encounter surprises as our projects unfold. The world is full of uncertainty. We therefore need to improve our agility skills in parallel with our foresight skills. Agility gives us the ability to change our focus quickly, in the light of better feedback about likely future scenarios.

Scrum is one of the most influential sets of practice for agile working. This book, by one of the co-creators of Scrum, makes it clear that Scrum has wide applicability beyond the context of software development in which it initially grew to fame. Sutherland provides a host of telling examples of how large, cumbersome projects could be transformed into sleeker, more effective vehicles by the application of Scrum ideas such as sprints, scrum masters, transparency, estimation, waste management, and pivots.

If anyone ever feels overwhelmed by having too much to do – or too much to think about – the ideas in Sutherland’s book could help you break out from being bogged down in analysis-paralysis.

In my own futurist consulting activities, I’m finding that professional audiences are showing increasing interest in the few slides I sometimes include on the topic of “Agile futurism”. Perhaps I ought to flesh out these slides into a new service offering in its own right!

books-2016

9 November 2016

The missing vision

Filed under: politics, vision — Tags: , , , , , — David Wood @ 10:04 am

The United States of America have voted. In large numbers, electors have selected as their next President someone committed to:

  • Making it much harder for many types of people to enter the country
  • Deporting many of the current residents
  • Ramping up anti-Islam hostility
  • Denouncing global warming as a hoax
  • Undoing legislation to protect the environment
  • Reducing US support for countries facing hostile aggression
  • Dismantling the US deal with Iran over nuclear technology
  • Imposing punitive trade tariffs on China, likely triggering a trade war
  • Packing the Supreme Court with conservative judges who are opposed to choice.

Over the past months, I have tried – and usually failed – to persuade many of my online “friends” of the dangers of voting for Donald Trump. Smart people have, it seems, their own reasons for endorsing and welcoming this forthcoming “shock to the system”. People have been left behind by the pace of change, I’ve been told. Who can blame them for reaching for an outsider politician? Who can blame them for ignoring the objections of elites and “experts”?

Because of the pain and alienation being experienced by many electors, it’s no surprise – the argument runs – that they’re willing to try something different. Electors have proven themselves ready to overlook the evident character flaws, flip-flops, egotism, sexism, and indiscipline of Trump. These flaws seem to pale into insignificance beside the hope that a powerful outsider can deliver a hefty whack on the side of a dysfunctional Washington establishment. Their visceral hatred of present-day politics has led them to suspend critical judgement on the Trump juggernaut. That hatred also led them to lap up, unquestioningly, many of the bogus stories circulating on social media, that levelled all kinds on nonsense accusations on the leadership of the Democratic Party.

(For a thoughtful, heartfelt analysis of why so many people leave behind their critical judgement, see this Facebook essay by Eliezer Yudkowsky.)

There are already lots of arguments about who is to blame for this development – about whose shoulders failed to hold the responsibility to uphold sensible rather than fantasist politics. For example, see this Intelligence Squared debate on the motion “Blame the elites for the Trump phenomenon”.

My own analysis is that what was missing was (and is) a credible, compelling vision for how a better society is going to be built.

Electors were unconvinced by what they heard from Hillary Clinton, and (indeed) from the other non-Trump candidates for nomination. What they heard seemed too much of the same. They imagined that any benefits arising from a Clinton presidency would be experienced by the elites of society, rather than by the common citizen.

What’s needed, therefore, is the elaboration of a roadmap for how all members of society can benefit from the fruits of ongoing and forthcoming technological progress.

I call this vision the “Post-scarcity vision”. Because it involves the fundamental adoption of new technology, for progressive social purposes, it can also be called a “Technoprogressive vision”.

I’ve tried to share my thinking about that vision on numerous occasions over the last 5-10 years. Here are some slides taken from a presentation I gave last month to the IC Beyond (Imperial College Beyond) Society in Central London:

slide1

slide2

slide3

slide4

If you want to hear my explanation of these slides in the context of a longer discussion of the impact of automation and technological unemployment on society, here’s a video of the entire meeting (the “vision” slides are in the second half of the presentation):

As this post-scarcity technoprogressive vision evolves and matures, it has the potential to persuade more and more people that it – rather than Trump-style restrictions on movement, choice, and aggregation – represents a better route to a society that it better for everyone.

But beliefs have deep roots, and it’s going to require lots of hard, wise work to undo all kinds of prejudices en route to that better society.

Footnote: I first wrote a formal “Transhumanist Manifesto” in February 2013, here (with, ahem, somewhat flowery language). For other related declarations and manifestos, see this listing on H+Pedia. Out of the growing community of technoprogressives and transhumanists, there’s a lot of potential to turn these visions into practical roadmaps.

8 November 2016

Agile organisations for agile politics

Filed under: Agile, H+Pedia, politics, Transpolitica, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — David Wood @ 6:23 pm

The pace of change in politics over the last twelve months has been breathtaking. It’s possible the change will accelerate further over the next twelve months:

  • Huge dissatisfaction exists with present-day political parties, candidates, and processes
  • Ideas can spread extremely rapidly, due to extensive usage of social media
  • Although many people feel alienated from mainstream politics, they have a hunger for political change.

Growing awareness of forthcoming technological disruptions heightens the general feeling of angst:

  • Technological unemployment (automation) threatens to eliminate whole swathes of jobs, or to reduce the salaries available to people who continue in their current roles
  • Genetic editing and artificial intelligence have the potential for people living “better than well” and even “more than human”, but it’s unclear how widely these benefits will be shared among all sectors of society
  • Technologies such as blockchain and 3D printing raise the possibility of decentralised coordination – coordination with less need for powerful states or corporations
  • Virtual Reality, along with new types of drug, could lead to large-scale disengagement of citizens from mainstream society – with people “tuning in and dropping out” as never before
  • Breakthroughs in fields of energy, nanotech, the Internet of Things, synthetic biology, and self-learning artificial intelligence could result, intentionally or unintentionally, in extremely chaotic outcomes – with recourse to new types of “weapons of mass destruction” (including cyber-terrorism, nano-terrorism, gene-terrorism, and AI-terrorism)
  • Technologies of surveillance could put more power than ever before in the hands of all-seeing, all-manipulating governments and/or corporations
  • Misguided attempts to “geo-engineer” planetary solutions to potential runaway climate change could have devastating unintended consequences for the environment.

In the light of such uncertainty, two skills are becoming more important than ever:

  • The skill of foresight – the anticipation and evaluation of new scenarios, arising from the convergence of multiple developing trends
  • The skill of agility – the capability to change plans rapidly, as unexpected developments take on a life of their own.

An update on the Transhumanist Party of the UK

This context is the background for a significant change in a political party that was formed nearly two years ago – the Transhumanist Party of the UK (TPUK).

As a reminder, here’s a 90 second promotional video for TPUK from April last year:

.

The messages in that video remain as relevant and important today as when the Party was founded:

The Transhumanist Party – Transcending human limitations

Harnessing accelerating technology:

  • Enabling positive social change and personal freedom,
  • With no-one abandoned,
  • So technology benefits all – not just vested interests.

Sustainable, bright green policies – good for humanity and good for the environment

  • Policies informed by science and evidence,
  • Ideology and divisiveness replaced by rationality and compassion ,
  • Risks managed proactively, enabling innovation to flourish.

Regenerative solutions – for body, mind, education, society, and politics

  • Smart automation and artificial intelligence addressing age-old human burdens,
  • Huge personal and financial benefits from preventive medicine and healthy longevity,
  • Politics transcending past biases and weaknesses.

However, despite this vision, and despite an initial flurry of positive publicity (including the parliamentary candidacy of Alex Karran), the Party has made little progress over the last 6-9 months. And in the last couple of weeks, two key members of the Party’s NEC (National Executive Committee) have resigned from the Party:

These resignations arise from the recognition that there are many drawbacks to creating and developing a new political party in the United Kingdom:

  • The “first past the post” electoral system makes it especially difficult for minority parties to win seats in parliament
  • Political parties need to establish a set of policies on a wide range of issues – issues away from the areas of core agreement among members, and where dissension can easily arise
  • The timescales spoken about for full electoral success – potentially up to 25 years – are far too far into the future, given all the other changes expected in the meantime.

Party executives will each be following their own decisions about the best way to progress the underlying goals of transhumanist politics. Many of us will be redoubling our efforts behind Transpolitica – the think tank which was established at the same time as the Transhumanist Party. The relationship between Transpolitica and TPUK is covered in this FAQ from the Transpolitica website:

Q: What is the relation between Transpolitica and the various Transhumanist Parties?

Transpolitica aims to provide material and services that will be found useful by transhumanist politicians worldwide, including:

  • Transhumanist supporters who form or join parties with the name “Transhumanist Party” in various countries
  • Transhumanist supporters who form other new parties, without using the word “transhumanist” in their party name
  • Transhumanist supporters inside other existing political parties, including mainstream and long-established parties
  • Transhumanist supporters who prefer not to associate closely with any one political party, but who have an interest in political action.

Transpolitica 2016

Transpolitica is hosting a major conference later this year – on 3rd December. It’s a conference with a very practical ambition – to gather and review proposals for “Real world policy changes for a radically better future”. There will be 15 speakers, covering topics in three broad sections:

  • Regulations, health, and transformation
  • Politics, tools, and transformation
  • Society, data, and transformation

Click here for more details, and to register to attend (while tickets are still available).

I’ll be kicking off the proceedings, with a talk entitled “What prospects for better politics?”.

dw-speaker-transpolitica-2016

Watch out for more news about the topics being covered by the other speakers.

Note that a focus on devising practical policies for a radically better future – policies which could become the focus of subsequent cross-party campaigns for legislative changes – resonates with an important evolution taking place within the IEET (the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies). As James Hughes (the IEET Executive Director) writes:

I am proposing that the IEET re-focus in a major way, on our website, with our blog, with our community, and in our work, on the explicit project of building a global technoprogressive ideological tendency to intervene in debates within futurism, academe and public policy. While we will remain a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, and will not be endorsing specific candidates, parties or pieces of legislation, we can focus on the broad parameters of the technoprogressive regulatory and legislative agenda to be pursued globally.

Regarding a first concrete project in this new direction, I have in mind our editing a Technoprogressive Policy Briefing Book, comparable to the briefing books of think tanks like the Brookings Institution, AEI, or Heritage Foundation. This project can collect and collaborate with the excellent work done by Transpolitica and other technoprogressive groups and friends. Each policy briefing would state a general issue in a couple of paragraphs, outline the key technoprogressive policy ideas to address the issue, and then list key publications and links to organizations pursuing those policies.

Next steps with the TPUK

As the official Treasurer of the TPUK, and following (as mentioned above) the resignation of both the leader and deputy leader of the Party, it legally falls to me to manage the evolution of the Party in a way that serves the vision of the remaining members. I’m in discussion with the other remaining representatives on the National Executive Committee, and we’ll be consulting members via the Party’s email conferencing systems. The basic principles I’ll be proposing are as follows:

  1. Times of rapid change demand organisational agility, rather than any heavyweight structures
  2. We will retain our radical purpose – the social changes ahead could (and should) be momentous over the next 5-25 years
  3. We will retain our progressive vision, in which technology benefits all – not just vested interests
  4. We will provide support across the spectrum of existing political parties to sympathisers of transhumanist and technoprogressive changes
  5. We will be ready to play a key positive enabling role as the existing political spectrum undergoes its own changes ahead – including the fragmentation of current parties and the creation of new alliances and new initiatives
  6. We will continue to champion the vision of (a.) Harnessing accelerating technology to enable positive social change and personal freedom; (b.) Sustainable, bright green policies – good for humanity and good for the environment; (c.) Regenerative solutions – for body, mind, education, society, and politics
  7. We will aim to provide actionable, practical analyses – of the sort being presented at Transpolitica 2016 – rather than (just) statements of principle
  8. Rather than maintain an expensive infrastructure of our own, we should feed our work into existing systems – such as H+Pedia, Transpolitica, the IEET, and the Transhuman National Committee of the United States
  9. As far as possible, we will remain collaborative rather than divisive
  10. We will hold onto our domain names
  11. We will retain the option to field our own candidates in future elections, in case that turns out to be the most sensible course of action at that time (this means the Party will remain officially registered with the Electoral Commission – at modest cost)
  12. We will offer our donors and members a refund of the payments they have provided the Party within the last six months, in case they feel they no longer support our vision.

 

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