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4 February 2013

Responding to the call for a new Humanity+ manifesto

Filed under: BHAG, futurist, Humanity Plus, leadership, risks — David Wood @ 7:37 am

I’ve been pondering the call, on Transhumanity.net, to upgrade the Transhumanist Declaration.

This endeavour needs the input of many minds to be successful. Below, please find a copy of a submission from me, to add into the mix. I’ll welcome feedback!

Humanity is on the brink of a momentous leap forwards in evolution. If we are wise and strong, we can – and should – make that leap.

This evolutionary transformation takes advantage of rapidly improving technology – technology that arises from positive virtuous cycles and unprecedented interdisciplinary convergence. This technology will grant us awesome powers: the power to capture ample energy from the Sun, the atom, and beyond; the power to synthesise new materials to rejuvenate our environment and fuel our societies; the power to realise an unparalleled abundance of health, security, vigour, vitality, creativity, knowledge, and experience; the power to consciously, thoughtfully, proactively remake Humanity.

Through imminently available technology, our lives can be radically enhanced, expanded, and extended. We can be the generation that banishes disease, destitution, decay, and death. Our societies can become marvels of autonomy and inclusion, featuring splendid variety and harmony. We can move far beyond the earth, spreading ever higher consciousness in both inner and outer space. We can transcend our original biological nature, and become as if divine; we’ll be as far ahead of current human capabilities as current humans exceed the prowess of our ape forebears.

But technology is a two-edged sword. Alongside the potential for transcendent improvement lies the potential for existential destruction. We face fearsome perils of environmental catastrophe, unstoppable new plagues and pathogens, rampant unemployment and alienation, the collapse of world financial markets, pervasive systems of unresponsive computers and moronically intelligent robots that act in frustration to human desires, horrific new weaponry that could easily fall into the wrong hands and precipitate Armageddon, and intensive mechanisms for draconian surveillance and thought control.

Continuing the status quo is not an option. Any quest for sustainability of current lifestyles is a delusion. We cannot stay still, and we cannot retreat. The only way to survive is radical enhancement – moving from Humanity to Humanity+.

We’ll need great wisdom and strength to successfully steer the acceleration of converging technology for a positive rather than a negative outcome. We’ll need to take full advantage of the best of current Humanity, to successfully make the leap to Humanity+.

Grand battles of ideas lie ahead. In all these grand battles, smart technology can be our powerful ally – technology that can unlock and enhance our human capacities for insight, innovation, compassion, kindness, and solidarity.

We’ll need to transcend worldviews that insist on viewing humans as inherently diminished, incapable, flawed, and mortal. We’ll need to help individuals and societies rise above cognitive biases and engrained mistakes in reasoning. And we’ll need to accelerate a reformation of the political and economic environment, so that the outcomes that are rationally best are pursued, instead of those which are expedient and profitable for the people who currently possess the most power and influence.

As more and more people come to appreciate the tremendous attractiveness and the credibility of the Humanity+ future, they’ll collectively commit more of their energy, skills, and resources in support of realising that future. But the outcome is still far from clear.

Time is short, risks are high, and there is much to do. We need to open minds, raise awareness, transform the public mood, overturn prejudices, establish rights, build alliances, resist over-simplification, avoid the temptations of snake oil purveyors, dispel distractions, weigh up the best advice available, take hard decisions, and accelerate specific research and development. If we can navigate these slippery paths, with wisdom and strength, we will indeed witness the profound, glorious emergence of Humanity+.

2 October 2011

Prioritising the best peer pressure

Filed under: BHAG, catalysts, collaboration, futurist, Humanity Plus — David Wood @ 9:36 am

In a world awash with conflicting influences and numerous potential interesting distractions, how best to keep “first things first“?

A big part of the answer is to ensure that the influences we are closest to us are influences:

  • Whose goals are aligned with our own
  • Who can give us prompt, helpful feedback when we are falling short of our own declared intentions
  • Who can provide us with independent viewpoints that enrich, complement, and challenge our current understanding.

In my own case, that’s the reason why I have been drawn to the community known as “Humanity+“:

Humanity+ is an international nonprofit membership organization which advocates the ethical use of technology to expand human capacities. We support the development of and access to new technologies that enable everyone to enjoy better minds, better bodies and better lives. In other words, we want people to be better than well.

I deeply share the goals of Humanity+, and I find some of the world’s most interesting thinkers within that community.

It’s also the reason I have sought to aid the flourishing of the Humanity+ community, particularly in the UK, by organising a series of speaker meetings in London.  The speakers at these meetings are generally fascinating, but its the extended networking that follows (offline and online) which provides the greatest value.

My work life has been very busy in the last few months, leaving me less time to organise regular H+UK meetings.  However, to keep myself grounded in a community that contains many people who can teach me a great deal – a community that can provide powerful positive peer pressure – I’ve worked with some H+UK colleagues to pull together an all day meeting that is taking place at the Saturday at the end of this week (8th October).

The theme of this meeting is “Beyond Human: Rethinking the Technological Extension of the Human Condition“.  It splits into three parts:

  • Beyond human: The science and engineering
  • Beyond human: Implications and controversies
  • Beyond human: Getting involved

The event is free to attend.  There’s no need to register in advance. The meeting is taking place in lecture room B34 in the Malet Street building (the main building) of Birkbeck College.  This is located in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square), London WC1E 7HX.

Full details are on the official event website.  In this blogpost, to give a flavour of what will be covered, I’ll just list the agenda with the speakers and panellists.

09.30 – Finding the room, networking
Opening remarks
Beyond human: The science and engineering
11.40 – Audience Q&A with the panel consisting of the above four speakers
Lunch break
12.00 – People make their own arrangements for lunch (there are some suggestions on the event website)
Beyond human: Implications and controversies
14.40 – Audience Q&A with the panel consisting of the above four speakers
Extended DIY coffee break
15.00 – Also a chance for extended networking
Beyond human: Getting involved
17.25 – Audience Q&A with the panel consisting of the above four speakers
End of conference
17.45 – Hard stop – the room needs to be empty by 18.00

You can follow the links to find out more information about each speaker. You’ll see that several are eminent university professors. Several have written key articles or books on the theme of technology that significantly enhances human potential. Some complement their technology savvy with an interest in performance art.  All are distinguished and interesting futurists in their own way.

I don’t expect I’ll agree with everything that’s said, but I do expect that great personal links will be made – and strengthened – during the course of the day.  I also expect that some of the ideas shared at the conference – some of the big, hairy, audacious goals unveiled – will take on a major life of their own, travelling around the world, offline and online, catalysing very significant positive change.

10 October 2010

The 10 10 10 vision

Filed under: BHAG, leadership, Symbian, vision — David Wood @ 10:19 am

The phrase “10 10 10” first entered my life at a Symbian Leadership Team offsite, held in Tylney Hall in Hampshire, in early January 2007.  We were looking for a memorable new target for Symbian.

A few months earlier, in November 2006, cumulative sales of Symbian-powered phones had passed the milestone of 100 million units, and quarterly sales were continuing to grow steadily.  It was therefore a reasonable (but still bold) extrapolation for Nigel Clifford, Symbian’s CEO, to predict:

The first 100 million took 8 years [from Symbian’s founding, in June 1998],  the next 100 million will take under 80 weeks

That forecast was shared with all Symbian employees later in the month, as we gathered in London’s Old Billingsgate Hall for the annual Kick Off event.  Nigel’s kick off speech also outlined the broader vision adopted by the Leadership Team at the offsite:

By 2010 we want to be shipping 10 million Symbian devices per month

If we do that we will be in 1 in 10 mobile phones shipping across the planet

So … 10 10 10

Fast forward nearly four years to the 10th of October, 2010 – to 10/10/10.  As I write these words at around 10 minutes past 10 o’clock, how did that vision turn out?

According to Canalys figures reported by the BBC, just over 27 million Symbian-powered devices were sold during Q2 2010:

Worldwide smartphone market

OS Q2 2010 shipments % share Q2 2009 shipments % share Growth
Symbian 27,129,340 43.5 19,178,910 50.3 41.5
RIM 11,248,830 18.0 7,975,950 20.9 41
Android 10,689,290 17.1 1,084,240 2.8 885.9
Apple 8,411,910 13.5 5,211,560 13.7 61.4
Microsoft 3,083,060 4.9 3,431,380 9.0 -10.2
Others 1,851,830 3.0 1,244,620 3.3 48.8
Total 62,414,260 100 38,126,660 100 63.3

Dividing by three, that makes just over 9 million units per month in Q2, which is marginally short of this part of the target.

But more significantly, Symbian failed by some way to have the mindshare, in 2010, that the 2007 Leadership Team aspired to.  As the BBC report goes on to say:

Although Symbian is consistently the most popular smart phone operating system, it is often overshadowed by Apple’s iPhone and Google Android operating system.

I’m a big fan of audacious goals – sometimes called BHAGs.  The vision that Symbian would become the most widely used and most widely liked software platform on the planet, motivated me and many of my colleagues to prodigious amounts of hard work over many years.

In retrospect, were these BHAGs misguided?  It’s too early to tell, but I don’t think so. Did we make mistakes along the way?  Absolutely. Should Symbian employees, nevertheless, take great pride in what Symbian has accomplished?  Definitely. Has the final chapter been written on smartphones?  No way!

But as for myself, my vision has evolved.  I’m no longer a “Symbian smartphone enthusiast”.  Instead, I’m putting my energies into being a “smartphone technology enthusiast“.

I don’t yet have a new BHAG in mind that’s as snappy as either “10 10 10” or “become the most widely used and most widely liked software platform on the planet”, but I’m working on it.

The closest I’ve reached so far is “smartphone technology everywhere“, but that needs a lot of tightening.

Footnote: As far as I can remember, the grainy photo below is another remnant of the Symbian Leadership Team Jan 2007 Tylney Hall offsite.  (The helmets and harnesses were part of a death-defying highwire team-building exercise.  We all lived to tell the tale.)

(From left to right: Standing: Andy Brannan, Charles Davies, Nigel Clifford, David Wood, Kent Eriksson, Kathryn Hodnett, Thomas Chambers, Jorgen Behrens; Squatting: Richard Lowther, Stephen Williams.)

12 August 2008

Audacious goals

Filed under: BHAG, Psion, Symbian Foundation, vision — David Wood @ 8:02 pm

Martin Sauter asks: Which BHAGs are held by companies in the wireless space?

BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is a memorable term introduced by Jim Collins and Jerry Poras in their watershed book, “Built to last: successful habits of visionary companies”. This book was widely read (and debated) within Psion in the mid 1990s. I vividly remember Psion Chairman and CEO David Potter giving an internal talk on themes from that book relevant to Psion. That talk had a lasting effect.

As Martin mentions, Symbian has been driven for many years by the audacious idea that, one day, Symbian OS will be the most widely used software platform on the planet. But that’s only one of several BHAGs in my mind.

Personally I prefer to say that Symbian’s goal is to be the most widely used and most widely liked software platform on the planet. That’s because I see the latter element as being a key contributor towards the former element. My vision is that people of all dispositions and from all social groups the world over will have good reason to want to use devices running this software – and will be able to afford them.

Here’s another BHAG. Looking towards the activities of the Symbian Foundation (assuming that the regulatory authorities approve the deal that creates this foundation), I envision a time when the ten or so principal package owners for the Symbian Platform will be among the most widely admired and respected software engineers on the planet. Books and articles will frequently write about each of these principal package owners and their finely honed skills in software architecture, software quality, software usability, and large-scale software integration. These articles will celebrate the different backgrounds and different sponsor-companies of these principal package owners (and will no doubt also delve into the multi-faceted inter-personal relationships among this group of world-striding individuals). These individuals will be the pin-up superstars who inspire new generations of emerging world-class software engineers.

I have other large-scale aspirations concerning the future of the Symbian Foundation, but it’s not appropriate to talk about these for the moment. However, what I am happy to share is some audacious ideas for the evolution of the products that I expect to be created, based on Symbian OS, in the 15-25 years ahead:

  • The human-computer interaction will sooner or later evolve to become a far more efficient brain-computer interaction. Instead of device owners needing to type in requests and then view the results on a physical screen, it will be possible for them to think requests and then (in effect) intuit the results via inner mental vision. (Just as we all had to learn to type, we’ll have to learn to think anew, to use these improved interfaces, if you see what I mean.) So the rich information world of the internet and beyond will become available for direct mental introspection;
  • The smartphone devices of the future will be more than information stores and communications pathways; they will have powerful intelligence of their own. Take the ideas of a spell-checker and grammar-checker and magnify them to consider an idea-checker and an internal coach. So the smartphone will become, for those who wish it, like a trusted best friend;
  • Adding these two ideas together, I foresee a time when human IQ and EQ are both radically boosted by the support of powerful mobile always-connected electronic brains and their nano-connections into our biological brains. To be clear, such devices ought to make us wiser as well as smarter, and kinder as well as stronger. For a glimpse of what this might mean, I suggest you take the time to find out what happens to one of the key characters in Kevin Bohacz’s awkwardly titled but engrossing and audacious (I think that’s the right word in this context) novel “Immortality”.

There’s more. In addition to far-reaching ideas about the products that the operation of the Symbian Foundation will eventually enable, it’s also worth considering some far-reaching ideas about the problem-solving capabilities of the robust yet transparent open collaborative methods expected to be deployed by the Symbian Foundation (methods that build on best practice established in the first ten years of Symbian’s history). In other words, the potential benefits of richly skilled open collaboration go far beyond the question of how to create world-beating smartphones. As highlighted in the tour-de-force “The upside of down” by the deeply thoughtful Canadian researcher Thomas Homer Dixon, the profound structural issues facing the future of our society (including climate change, energy shortage, weapons proliferation, market instability, fundamentalist abdication of rationality, and changing population demographics) are so inter-twined and so pervasive that they will require a new level of worldwide collaboration to solve them. Towards the end of his book, Homer-Dixon points to the transformative potential of open-source software mechanisms for inspiration for how this new level of collaboration can be achieved. It’s an intriguing analysis. Can open source save the world? Watch this space.

Footnote: Having the right BHAG is an important first step towards a company making a dent in the universe. But it’s only one of many steps. Although “Built to last” is a fine book, I actually prefer Jim Collin’s later work, “From good to great: why some companies make the leap … and others don’t”. In effect, “From good to great” is full of acutely insightful ideas on how companies can make progress towards their BHAGs.

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