London Futurists news, 3rd December 2015

Dear Futurists,

1.) Challenging prevailing opinion – part 1

As I write these words, the news in the UK has been dominated for several days by discussions of hard power. Should British armed forces exert military force in Syria? Should we fight terrorist fire with “shock and awe” fire of our own?

On Saturday 12th December, London Futurists will be hearing from a speaker, Indra Adnan, who argues that foreign policy needs a great deal more than bombs and weaponry. In the absence of painting a much more positive, inspiring, picture of the future, Western countries are setting the ground for yet further backlashes and trauma ahead. We may end up with a future that is far from our liking.

The talk is entitled “The increasing role of soft power in a hard world”. Here’s an excerpt from the description:

We live in a world with increasingly powerful technology that is increasingly widely disseminated. There are also large numbers of people who feel alienated and disaffected from modern society. Add in apocalyptic ideologies, resurgent nationalism, and the use of social media to spread incendiary messages around the world at the speed of light, and we reach a global situation with unprecedented dangers. For example, it may soon be the case that weapons of mass destruction can be assembled and then used by small groups of mavericks, with fearful consequences.

In these circumstances, continued reliance of “hard power” – military force, sanctions, threats, aggression – brings its own risks. Accordingly, this talk proposes an increasingly important role for “soft power”.

As stated in Wikipedia, “Soft power is the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. A defining feature of soft power is that it is non-coercive; the currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies.”

The talk explores what can be done – using technology, education, and other means – to make humanity kinder, more compassionate, wiser, and more fulfilled. The result would be a society that attracts and inspires would-be drop-outs, rather than repelling them and turning them into terrorists or militarists. In this way, the dangers of excess use of hard power can be handled successfully.

For more details, and to RSVP to attend, see http://www.meetup.com/London-Futurists/events/227036294/.

2.) Challenging prevailing opinion – part 2

Two days later, on Monday 14th December, a different London Futurists event highlights another idea that also challenges prevailing wisdom.

In this case, the idea is geoengineering – the intentional manipulation of the Earth’s climate to reduce global warming. The speaker will be Dr Jack Stilgoe, Lecturer in Science and Technology Studies at University College London.

For understandable reasons, geoengineering can make people nervous. However, responsible discussion needs to be able to put some of that nervousness temporarily on hold. Futurists seek to transcend the distorting effects of “future shock”, in order to discern more clearly:

  • The technical feasibility of different approaches to geoengineering
  • The pros and cons of these potential interventions.

For more details of this event, see http://www.meetup.com/London-Futurists/events/226383763/. Here’s an excerpt:

Drawing on three years of sociological research working with scientists on one of the world’s first major geoengineering projects, this talk considers the politics of experimentation. Geoengineering provides a test case for rethinking the responsibilities of scientists and asking how science can take better care of the futures that it helps bring about.

3.) Videos from London Futurists event at Bloomberg, 13 November

Many thanks are due to Bloomberg for hosting London Futurists on 13 November – and, now, for making available the video recordings of the talks and panel discussion from that event.

You can find the recordings here.

4.) Videos from the Transhumanist Party Day event, 4 October

Another previous event for which a number of video recordings are now available is the Transhumanist Party Day on 4th October. So far, two different playlists from this day have been prepared:

Let me briefly highlight a couple of requests that are contained within the report from the Treasury department:

  • Does anyone with accounting training want to join the Treasury department?
  • Does anyone with ideas or experience with fundraising want to join the Treasury department?

(If so, please get in touch with me, since my own knowledge of the likes of double-entry bookkeeping is decidedly amateur!)

5.) The Science and Ethics of Engineering the Embryo

Next week, on Wed 9th December, the Progress Educational Trust is holding an all-day event “From Three-Person IVF to Genome Editing: The Science and Ethics of Engineering the Embryo”.

You can read about the event here: http://www.progress.org.uk/conference2015. Here’s an excerpt:

The conference will explore the advent of new methods of making enduring changes to the human embryo – changes that, if used in treatment, will affect not only the person born but also subsequent generations.

Confirmed speakers and chairs include Professor Sir Mark Walport, Professor Azim Surani, Sally Cheshire,Professor Doug Turnbull, Viscount Matt Ridley, Professor John Harris, Professor Emily Jackson, Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, Dr Tony Perry, Professor Bobbie Farsides, Dr Calum MacKellar, Dr Roger Highfield,Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy, Timandra Harkness, Fiona Fox and Sarah Norcross.

There will be a Keynote Address by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir Mark Walport, entitled ‘Why the UK Should Be Leading the Discussion on Embryo Engineering‘.

Other conference sessions include:

It’s a conference that will, I imagine, be of interest to many London Futurists. I plan to attend.

6.) Second Life

The day after the Progress Educational Trust event just mentioned, I plan to share some of my reflections on the topics covered, in a presentation I’ll be doing in Second Life.

The full details of that Second Life event haven’t been published yet, but Giulio Prisco will be keeping everyone informed about it. See e.g. http://turingchurch.com/2015/12/03/terasem-colloquium-in-second-life-december-10-speakers/.

It’s the first time I’ll be conducting a presentation in Second Life. I’m looking forward to it!

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

 

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