London Futurists news, 9th Feb 2015

Dear Futurists,

Please find below news of a few events or projects that may be of interest.

In case any particular item doesn’t catch your attention, please just skip past it to the next one!

1.) Brain Hackathon 2015, 20-22 March

From http://www.hackthebrain.uk/:

Hack the Brain invites neuroscientists, coders, designers, artists, engineers and all maker enthusiasts to a weekend of exploration!

The Idea is to bring together makers from a variety of backgrounds and provide them with a weekend’s worth of time and space to develop new devices and applications that enhance, expand and augment the mind and the senses.

The Tools we’ll be using include some seriously cool technologies, like Brain-Computer Interfaces, sensory substitution devices, virtual, and augmented reality headsets, and more. Bring your own devices as well to work with and incorporate into your project.

The Vision is that by exploring these avenues and pushing our boundaries we can learn about what it means to be human in the age of neurotechnologies. And who knows, we might just build something amazing.

Hack the Brain will be held at Makerversity, “a making and learning space in the heart of London – A place for pioneers and prototypes”: Makerversity, Somerset House, Victoria Embankment, London, WC2R 1LA.

Thanks to Imre Bárd, neuroenhancement researcher at the LSE, for bringing this to my attention. Imre, who is a member of the EU “NERRI” project (Neuroenhancement – Responsible Research and Innovation), www.nerri.eu, writes:

Our idea for the hackathon is to gather people from various backgrounds, such as neuroscientists, designers, artists, hackers, coders, engineers, and so forth, and invite them to use and develop tools like brain-computer interfaces, sensory substitution devices, etc. to come up with new ways of enhancing the mind and extending our sensory capacities. Our aim is to get about 10 teams of 3-4 people hacking away on projects during the weekend. We believe that this could serve as a really valuable tool to gain a completely new kind of insight into how people think about the prospect of human enhancement and it might result in some amazing prototypes.

 2.) The robots are coming and will destroy our livelihoods (?), 2nd March

From http://www.intelligencesquared.com/events/the-robots-are-coming-and-they-will-destroy-our-livelihoods/:

They are coming to an office near you: job-gobbling robots that can do your work better and more cheaply than you can. One in three jobs could be taken over by a computer or a robot in the next 20 years. Most at risk are less skilled workers such as machine operators, postmen, care workers and professional drivers. The CEO of Uber, the ride-sharing company, recently said that his goal is to replace all the firm’s drivers with autonomous cars.

But it’s not just blue-collar workers who are under threat. The relentless drive to replace expensive humans with artificial intelligence poses a threat to better paid jobs too. People whose work requires uniquely human skills, such as teachers, priests, and social workers, are likely to be safe. But already in law firms, junior lawyers are being replaced by software that can scan reams of documents in search of evidence; and in hospitals the role of pharmacists is being taken over by drug-dispensing robots. What’s worse, the people gaining from all this disruption are those already rich enough to own the technology and algorithms. Many experts are warning of a ‘winner takes all’ world of billionaires and beggars which will lead to increasing social unrest.

That’s the view of the tech pessimists, but others would argue that all this automation anxiety is overblown. While advances in technology have always caused disruption, in the long run they have led to the creation of more jobs. To give an example, in the 19th century the industrial revolution wiped out jobs on the land as farm workers were replaced by machinery, but millions found new work in factories as they sprang up in the cities. Why should things be different with the AI revolution? The vastly reduced costs to business, say the optimists, will create a boom that will ultimately lead to millions of new jobs — jobs that we can’t even envisage yet. For many the release from the daily drudgery of work will lead to new and more fulfilling means of employment. And for knowledge workers such as scientists and doctors, AI will enhance their expertise, not replace it. There will always be a premium paid for human ingenuity and insight, and these are the very qualities that will ensure we will prosper from this latest development in human history.

Join us on March 2nd and hear our experts go head to head on one of the most pressing issues of our time.

For more details, see the Intelligence Squared website. Note that this debate will be filmed for broadcast on BBC World News.

Personally I disagree with the view that ” all this automation anxiety is overblown”. What’s different this time, compared to previous episodes of tech automation, is the rate of change.

3.) Understanding the real pace of forthcoming tech change

Many readers will know that I attended the Singularity University Summit Europe held at the DeLaMar Theater in Amsterdam in November.

I was already familiar with a lot of the material covered by the different presenters, but – wow:

  • The information was synthesised in a way that was compelling, entertaining, highly credible, and thought-provoking
  • The different sessions dovetailed extremely well together
  • The speakers clearly knew their material, and were comfortable providing good answers to the various questions raised by audience members (including offbeat and tangential questions).

People in the audience told me later that their jaws had been on the floor for nearly the entire two days.

My own reaction was: I should find ways of enabling lots more people to attend future similar Summits. The experience would likely transform them from being slow-paced futurists to fast-paced futurists. (For more on that distinction, see my recent personal blogpost on the subject.)

Happily, many Singularity University faculty members are returning to Europe, for the next Summit in the series. This will be taking place from 12-14 March in Seville. You can find the details here.

Sessions at SU Summit Spain will include:

  • Intro to SU and Exponentials – Rob Nail
  • Artificial Intelligence – Neil Jacobstein
  • Robotics – Rob Nail
  • Networks and Computing: Autonomous Cars – Brad Templeton
  • Breakthrough in Digital Biology – Raymond McCauly
  • Future of Medicine – Daniel Kraft
  • Digital Manufacturing – Scott Summit and Nigel Ackland
  • Energy Breakthroughs – Ramez Naam
  • SU Labs – Sandy Miller
  • Global Grand Challenges – Nick Haan
  • Security – David Roberts
  • Institutional Innovation and Scaling from the edge – Salim Ismail

To register for SU Summit Spain, see here (event website).

4.) Free preview of SU Summit Spain, 12th Feb

Interested in the chance to win a free ticket for the Seville event?

Attendees of a special preview taster event held this Thursday morning, 12th Feb, will be able to put their business cards into a special draw that will take place at the end of the preview event.

That preview, which will be held at Google’s “Campus London” in Shoreditch, will also:

  • Introduce the rich resources of the Singularity University (SU) community
  • Highlight some of the most dramatic of the technological changes that can be expected in the next few years
  • Answer your questions about SU Summit Spain.

The speakers I’ll be introducing at the preview will be:

  • Russell Buckley: Mentor, angel investor in 40+ startups, Government advisor, fundraising specialist, and Singularitarian
  • Nick Chrissos: Collaboration CTO, Cisco
  • Luis Rey: Director of the Singularity University Summit Spain.

The preview will start at 9am with tea/coffee and light breakfast. Presentations will start at 9.10am.

Entry is free, but you need to pre-register in advance, at this EventBrite site. At time of writing, there are 27 tickets left.

5.) Kinect Hackathon, 21-22 March

If you’re more comfortable hacking your Kinect than your brain (see item 1. above, about another event happening that same weekend), then the following hackathon may be the one for you.

From http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/kinecthack-london-tickets-15373679088:

Kinecthack London is coming!

Get hands-on with the Kinect for Windows v2 sensor

The lovely folk at Microsoft have given us access to a whole bunch of hardware, room to play and promise to keep you fed and watered while you have fun learning, hacking, voice commanding and gesticulating with the incredible Kinect for Windows v2 sensor and latest SDK.

We’ve managed to secure an entire weekend (so bring your sleeping bags) of access to Cardinal Place (Victoria, London). We’ll provide the food and drink (and some really cool giveaways) so you can have unadulterated hacking focus to build your Kinect based apps, games or anything else in whatever ways you dream up.

Come as a team, work individually or team up at the event, we’ll have plenty of space, power, wifi and desk space for all your hacking needs.

Event Start: Saturday 21st March 10:00am
Event End: Sunday 22nd March 18:00pm

Andrew Spooner, Creative Tech and UX Evangelist at Microsoft UK, writes as follows:

My colleagues and I in the Microsoft UK Future of Human Computer Interaction team have been exploring at depth the capabilities of the Kinect V2 sensor in the last few months. Some of that exploration has been in the form of 1 day proof of concepts to show to customers, some of that has been for products that are about to be deployed as Kinect apps to the Windows Store (more on those to follow soon!).

With the Kinect V2 SDK there have been significant improvements made which greatly accelerate the time it takes to get a basic idea up and running and we’re keen to see how other developers can get on with the new SDK.

Some colleagues and I are helping Dan from Moov2 with technical support for a Kinect Hackathon that he’s running at the end of March.

So if you have experience of programming in HTML/JavaScript, C# or C++ then we will be able to help you on your way building your first (or second or third!!!) Kinect for Windows application.

We have hardware that you can borrow, space to work and relax and some great prizes to give out along the way.

 6.) European Robotics Forum, Vienna, 11-13 March

Interested in state-of-the-art robotics? From http://www.erf2015.eu/:

The European Robotics Forum 2015 in Vienna, Austria, is an event you should not miss.

This 3-day event, from March 11-13, 2015, is a meeting point for at least 350 scientists, companies and robotics officials from the European Commission. The program is designed to provide an opportunity for the companies and researchers to meet and interact in workshops and seminars in order to expand their networks, gather the latest relevant information, and build new business and collaborations thereby strengthening the potential of European robotics.

7.) Climate change vs. Capitalism reading group, 10th Feb

From https://www.facebook.com/events/431140553716805/:

The Crystal Palace reading group for Naomi Klein’s new book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate” continues on 10 February. Newcomers are very welcome.

This group runs every other Tuesday for five sessions (27th Jan, 10th & 24th Feb, 10th & 24th March) from 7.30pm to 9:00pm.

Our second meeting will be upstairs in Mediterranea restaurant (21 Westow Street, SE19 3RY). If you don’t have a copy already, Jonathan at The Bookseller Crow has kindly offered to do a £5 discount off the hardback price for group members, so please do pop in and see him.

10 Feb: Please read the Introduction and Part One before the meeting, and bring along a quote, statement or line of argument from the book, for further discussion.

8.) “A civilisational wake-up call” – 28th March

To continue with the theme of climate change, and the book “This changes everything” written by Naomi Klein – there will be an all-day event on the themes raised by that book, on Sat 28th March at the Friends Meeting House on Euston Road, London.

You can register to attend, and find out more about the event, here. Speakers will include Naomi Klein herself (via Skype), Caroline Lucas, Francesca Martinez, John Hilary, Asad Rehman, and Neil Faulkner.

From http://www.thischangeseverything.co/about.html:

The climate crisis is the defining issue of our times and will take centre-stage in world politics in 2015. Our economic system puts profits before people and is destroying the natural systems that keep us alive. It has brought us to the precipice of catastrophic climate change. Because the real solutions empower people and threaten corporate profits, real change can only come from outside that system. So we need a movement with the foresight to put the planet at the heart of its politics, and a climate campaign with the courage to get political.

In case anything thinks I’ve forgotten all the profoundly good things that corporate companies have delivered to people over the last few decades, I’ll add one more quote to this section. It’s a quote I ran across the other day, from Øystein Dahle, vice-president of oil giant Exxon Mobil from 1985 to 1995:

Communism collapsed because it didn’t allow prices to tell the economic truth. Capitalism will collapse because it doesn’t allow prices to tell the ecological truth.

That quote is contained in the New Economics Forum blogpost “A great transition”. Let’s hope there is no collapse, either of the environment, or of the economy. But to avoid that outcome, it’s going to take clear leadership!

9.) UK Political Parties’ views on technology and digital issues

Later today – Monday 9th Feb – people will have the chance to watch representatives from the UK political parties answering questions submitted by the audience on “the Big Digital Debate”. The event is being streamed from 5pm onwards.

From http://www.techuk.org/events/seminar/item/3178-general-election-question-time-the-big-digital-debate:

From deficit reduction to increasing productivity, the future of the labour market, and creating cost-effective and smart public services, it is difficult to envisage an area of political party manifestos that will not be affected by technology’s influence. As manifesto writers are busy finalising vote-winning pledges, the Big Digital Debate will ask representatives from across the political parties to lay out their parties’ vision for technology, digital government and the digital economy.

The Big Digital Debate is brought to you by techUK, Computer Weekly and BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT with support from Coadec and the Internet Advertising Bureau.

Chaired by Computer Weekly’s editor Bryan Glick, and driven by questions submitted by the audience, this debate will challenge the parties on how they see the role of digital and tech shaping up as part of their offering to the UK electorate. The debate will be followed by a drinks reception.

We want YOUR questions to drive the debate. Make sure your voice is heard by pre-submitting questions for the panel when you register below. You can also kick-start the debate by tweeting your questions in advance using #DigitalQT.

The speakers will be:

  • Bryan Glick, Editor in Chief, Computer Weekly (Chair)
  • Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy
  • Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister for digital government
  • Julian Huppert MP, Liberal Democrat spokesman
  • Paul Fletcher, Group CEO, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT
  • Julian David, CEO, techUK

You can access the live video stream from the event here.

I submitted three questions in advance (all constrained by the 160 character limit of a single tweet):

  • What regenerational Apollo-scale projects will your party champion to enable UK to take full advantage of accelerating technology
  • What preparation is your party making for widespread technological unemployment? Are you investigating a Universal Basic Income?
  • Will your party accelerate rejuvenation biotech, so the longevity dividend can provide economic & personal liberation for all?

Alert readers will note that these questions reflect themes in the Transpolitica Manifesto.

Let’s collectively chip into the ongoing Twitter discussion, to elevate discussion away from the pressures of the present-day onto the even larger opportunities and risks of the near future.

10.) Progress with the Transhumanist Party UK

To answer a question that several people have asked me recently, and which I’ve therefore added to the Transpolitica FAQ:

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 Parties worldwide. However, it hopes that this material will also be valuable to transhumanist supporters inside other political parties, and to transhumanists who prefer not to associate closely with any one political party.

Behind the scenes, the Transhumanist Party UK is finalising its constitution and registration. One important vacancy still exists on the forthcoming National Executive Committee of the party – that of Treasurer.

If you have experience of financial accounting, and think this could be a good role for you, please get in touch!

11.) Forthcoming London Futurists events

Keep your eyes on http://www.meetup.com/London-Futurists/ for information about upcoming London Futurists events. These include:

The case for Universal Basic Income – Sat 14th February

  • Speakers Barb Jacobson and David Jenkins

The winning of the Carbon War – Sat 7th March

  • Speaker Jeremy Leggett.

I’m expecting both of them to be first class debates! What members tell me is that they also enjoy the opportunity to mingle with other London Futurists after the event, in the nearby Marlborough Arms pub. To give ourselves the best chance for personal success, we should pick our companions carefully. Whether we like it or not, the quality of the ideas and attitude of the people we spend time with (offline or online) makes a difference to our own ideas and attitudes.

Here’s to a better future together 🙂

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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