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27 May 2021

Twenty key themes in Vital Foresight

Filed under: Vital Foresight — Tags: , — David Wood @ 10:32 am

The scenarios that lie ahead for humanity – whether global destruction or sustainable superabundance – involve rich interactions of multiple streams of thought and activity. There’s a lot we need to get our heads around, including disruptions in technology, health, culture, economics, politics, education, and philosophy. Cutting corners on understanding any one of these streams could yield a seriously misleading picture of our options for the future. If we skimp on our analysis of future possibilities, we should not be surprised if humanity falls far short of our true potential.

That’s an extract from the Preface to my forthcoming new book Vital Foresight.

The book covers lots of ground that you won’t find anywhere else. Here are twenty examples:

(1) “A little foresight is a dangerous thing” – why many exercises in predicting the future end up making the future worse, rather than better.

(2) Insights from examples of seemingly bad foresight – what we can learn from looking more closely at past mis-forecasts of famines, plagues, climate change, fast progress with AI, war and peace, and terrorism.

(3) The eleven “landmines” (and “meta-landmines”) that pose the most threat of extensive damage to human civilisation. And how to avoid detonating any of them.

(4) “Shortsight” – The eight ways in which evolution has prepared us poorly to anticipate, evaluate, and steer the existential risks and existential opportunities that now confront us.

(5) “A little learning about disruption is a dangerous thing” – what most sets of recommendations get badly wrong when advocating disruption, exponentials, moonshots, and “accelerating returns”.

(6) “Surprise anticipation” – seven principles for managing the inevitable contingencies of any large transformation project.

(7) The design and use of canary signals, illustrated via the eleven landmines.

(8) “Hedgehogs, good, bad, and vital” – the importance, but also the danger, of having a single-minded vision for what the future can bring.

(9) What past sceptics of the potential for the Internet and distributed computing can teach us about the potential of the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution.

(10) “Technology overhang” – the special significance of inventions or breakthroughs that turn out to surprisingly fruitful. And why they complicate foresight.

(11) The multiple interconnections between the ‘N’, ‘B’, ‘I’, and ‘C’ quadrants of the NBIC convergence that is driving the fourth industrial revolution.

(12) Fifteen ways in which AI could change substantially over the next 5-10 years – even before AI reaches the level of AGI

(13) Why the “superlongevity”, “superintelligence”, and “superhappiness” aspirations of transhumanism need to be supplemented with “superdemocracy” and “supernarrative”

(14) Eight areas of the “transhumanist shadow” – attitudes and practices of people associated with the transhumanist movement that (rightly) attract criticism

(15) “Thirteen core transhumanist values” that underpin what I describe as “active transhumanism”, as a counter to the tendencies in the transhumanist shadow, and as the means to steer humanity toward the truly better future that lies within our grasp

(16) Sixteen criticisms of transhumanism that are unfair or confused, but which are worth exploring, since they enable a richer understanding of the issues and opportunities for transhumanism

(17) The applications of active transhumanism in both politics and geopolitics

(18) Six ways in which today’s educational systems await profound upgrades – and a proposed “vital syllabus” with twenty-one areas covering the skills everyone will need in the 2020s and beyond

(19) Examples of different kinds of potential forthcoming technological singularity, beyond simply the advent of AGI

(20) “The Singularity Principles” – 21 principles which are intended to provide the basis for practical policy recommendations, to guide society away from risks of a radically negative encounter with emergent technology toward the likelihood of a radically positive encounter.

That might make my book sound like a collection of check lists. But you’ll find that there are plenty of discursive narratives in the book too. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them.

And, by the way, the book has nearly 1000 footnotes, in case you want to follow up some of the material I have referenced.

Click here to access a prepublication preview of the book – and to have the opportunity to provide feedback.

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