London Futurists news, 25 Sept 2016

Dear Futurists,

1.) Transpolitica 2016 speaker schedule announced

The draft schedule for the Transpolitica 2016 conference on 3rd December has been announced. The schedule is still subject to a minor degree of change, but I append a copy of the current plans. We’ve been fortunate that so many interesting speakers have agreed to take part – several travelling from overseas in order to take part.

transpolitica-2016-speakers-v2

The theme of Transpolitica 2016 is “Real world policy changes for a radically better future”.

Note: the cost of a ticket to attend this conference rises from £12 to £20 on 1st October. Click here to register.

09.15: Doors open

09.45: Chair’s opening remarks

  • David Wood, Executive Director, Transpolitica: “What prospects for better politics?”

10.00-12:00: Regulations, health, and transformation

  • Alex Flamant, Notion Capital: “Accelerating the regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles”
  • Anna Harrington Morozova, Scientific and Regulatory Director, REGEM Consulting: “Opportunities for changes in governance of biomedical innovations: choosing your battles”
  • Didier Coeurnelle, Co-president of Heales, “Making longevity politically mainstream, or die trying”
  • Alex Pearlman, Science Journalist, Kings College London: “The political future of genetic enhancements”
  • José Cordeiro, Founding Energy Advisor/Faculty, Singularity University: “Practical and legal steps towards European cryonics”

12.00: Break for lunch and networking (lunch is not supplied)

13:00: Tea and coffee available, for post-lunch networking

13:30-15:00: Politics, tools, and transformation

  • Timothy Barnes, Founder and Senior Deity, The Rain Gods: “Bringing digital disruption to government”
  • Kathryn Corrick, COO Represent.me, “Updating democracy”
  • Toni Cowan-Brown, VP European Business Development, NationBuilder: “Software for better political campaigns”
  • James Smith, Party Leader, Something New: “Building the world’s first open-source political manifesto”
  • Jason Blackstock, Head of Department, UCL STEaPP, “Practical steps towards better public decision-making”

15:00: Break for tea/coffee networking

15.30-17.30: Society, data, and transformation

  • Nadja Muller-den Blijker, Co-Active Coach, Bell Noma: “Turning the tide – how to turn the mass influx of refugees to Europe into an opportunity”
  • Alexander Karran, Senior Researcher, Transpolitica: “Surveillance capitalism: making big data work for all”
  • Tony Czarnecki, Managing Partner, Sustensis: “From long-term sustainable growth to the economy of abundance”
  • Dean Bubley, Founder, Disruptive Analysis: “Technological Unemployment? We can work through it”
  • Chris Monteiro, Principal contributor, H+Pedia: “Perceptions and projections of futurist political scenarios”

17.30: Room empty

2.) Your real names vs. Meetup account names

Meetup generously allows members to use any names when they create accounts. These account names are what shows up in the list of people registered to attend London Futurists events. Occasionally this causes delays, when someone announces themselves at the entrance as “I am John Smith” but has forgotten that his Meetup account has a name such as”Beyond R2D2″. If we can’t find “John Smith” on the registration list, it can delay the entrance process.

My suggestion: visit https://www.meetup.com/account/ and check what’s shown there in the “Name” field. (It may be time to retire “Beyond R2D2″…)

3.) Supporting Singularity 1 on 1

singularity-1-on-1

Many of you will have benefited over the last six years from the extensive set of thoughtful “Singularity 1 on 1” video podcasts produced by Nikola Danaylov, aka “Socrates”:

Singularity 1 on 1 is a series of podcast interviews with the best scientists, writers, entrepreneurs, film-makers, journalists, philosophers and artists, debating the technological singularity.

The statistics of what Nikola has accomplished are impressive:

  • 6 years of existence and 200 episodes
  • 2 million views on YouTube and 16,000 subscribers
  • 5 star rating and 2 million audio downloads on iTunes.

You can get a flavour of the style of these podcasts from this set of highlights:

And for a longer sample, here’s the show when Nikola interviewed me in April last year

But as Nikola points out, creating these high-quality shows is an expensive undertaking:

With the rising public profile of the show I have had to face an exponential increase in costs too. I have been invited to attend events and do in-person interviews across the globe but due to lack of financial resources have had to decline most of them.

I need to pay for better audio and video equipment, editing software and training, computers, blog hosting, design and server maintenance. Most importantly, I need to attend all relevant conferences (nothing beats personal contact when it comes to soliciting for interviews) and travel for several pre-booked very high-profile in-person interviews that you will love.

In short, in order to sustain the podcast as is, with both audio and video, I need to raise at least $100,000…

For this reason, Nikola has created a crowdfunding appeal. Initial responses have been encouraging, but he’s still considerably short of the required target – and there’s just over a day for the appeal to run.

So please do consider making a contribution to this appeal. Rewards range from $10 (“The Symphatizer”) through $100 (“The Advisor”) and $1,000 (“Episode Producer”) and beyond – with lots of slots in between.

Since time is short, this is worth prioritising!

4.) London Futurists and GlobalNet21 at Newspeak House

bad-at-translating

The first of an envisaged joint series of meetings between London Futurists and GlobalNet21 takes place at Newspeak House on Tuesday 4th October:

What will the world look like in ten or twenty years time as the digital revolution explodes around us? And how might we best steer this revolution for positive social outcome?

The event will include a group discussion to identify a number of specific topics for priority attention in future joint meetups – topics that the audience assess to be inadequately understood or to lack meaningful action plans. To set the scene for this discussion, I’ll be providing a critical evaluation of one of the most significant and controversial books of 2016: “Homo Deus – A brief history of tomorrow”, by historian Yuval Noah Harari (pictured above):

“Homo Deus explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century – from overcoming death to creating artificial life. It asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo Deus.”

Among the destructive powers that Harari highlights is the accumulation of data by companies such as Google and Facebook, and our increasing reliance on data-crunching algorithms in more and more areas of life. At the same time, online networks, with all-seeing powers of information gathering, are replacing traditional institutions. It’s perhaps no surprise that voters around the world have sensed a disturbing “loss of control” – control now lies with algorithms, rather than with conscious human deliberation.

This is an experimental event for us in three different ways:

  1. First joint event with GlobalNet21 – a meetup with goals that are broadly aligned with those of London Futurists
  2. First usage of Newspeak House – which is itself the hub of a growing community with strong interests in using technology to improve politics
  3. We’ll be trying to broadcast the event live, using streaming technology – since we’ve heard there should be ample bandwidth available at the venue.

If anyone has prior relevant experience of live streaming an event lasting 90-120 minutes, and is willing to help with this part of the London Futurists experiment, please get in touch!

5.) Bumps on the road to the Economic Singularity

One of the many important ideas from Yuval Harari – mentioned in the previous point – is the risk that, in the decades ahead, human society will bifurcate into “the gods” and “the useless”. Here’s an extract from a recent interview he gave:

Throughout history, humans have ascribed to gods specific abilities, such as to design and create living beings; to reshape their own bodies; to control the environment and the weather; to read minds and to communicate instantly across space; and to escape death and live indefinitely.

Humans are in the process of acquiring all these abilities and then some. “Business as usual” will bring us there. If humankind simply carries on with its present economic, scientific and political patterns, humans are very likely to be upgraded into gods within a century or two at most. Yet the same technology that may upgrade human to gods, may also make them useless…

The rise of AI, which dispenses with organic components and seeks to create completely non-organic beings, is a particularly important and extremely worrying development.

I don’t think that an AI will annihilate humankind by a nuclear strike, as in some Hollywood science fiction movie. The more likely danger is that AI will make most humans useless. Computer algorithms are catching up with humans in more and more cognitive fields. It is very unlikely that computers will develop anything even close to human consciousness, but to replace humans in the economy, computers don’t need consciousness. They just need intelligence.

Throughout history, the only intelligent entities have been conscious entities. But intelligence is now decoupling from consciousness. We are developing non-conscious algorithms that can play chess, drive vehicle, fight wars and diagnose diseases better than us.

When the economy has to choose between intelligence and consciousness, the economy will choose intelligence. Once self-driving cars and doctor-bots outperform human drivers and doctors, millions of drivers and doctors around the world will lose their jobs, even though self-driving cars and doctor-bots have no consciousness.

Many new kinds of jobs might appear, but that won’t necessarily solve the problem. Humans have basically just two types of skills — physical and cognitive — and if computers outperform us in both, they might outperform us in the new jobs as well.

So what will be the use of humans in such a world? What will we do with billions of economically useless humans? We don’t have any economic model for such a situation. This may well be the greatest economic and political question of the 21st century. 

Futurist author Calum Chace has been addressing the same risk in an intelligent series of blogposts at his Pandora’s Brain site. The series is called “Bumps on the road to the Economic Singularity”. Here’s a picture from one of them:

two-futures

I also like Calum’s most recent article, “The Reverse Luddite Fallacy”, subtitled “Economists can be surprisingly dangerous”:

Most economists are convinced that automation will not lead to lasting unemployment. They point out – rightly – that it has not happened in the past. Instead, it has made products and services cheaper, which raises demand and creates new jobs. They say that the Luddites, who went round smashing weaving machines in the early nineteenth century, simply misunderstood what was happening, and this misunderstanding has become known as the Luddite Fallacy.

But in the coming decades, automation may have a very different effect…

The early stages of automation by intelligent machines are apparent in the legal, medical and journalist professions, and it is clear that it will affect every industry and every type of work. Retired British politicians like William Hague and Kenneth Baker (former foreign secretary and education secretary respectively) have begun to speak out about this, perhaps because they have nothing to lose and can afford to say the un-sayable.

No-one knows for sure how automation by intelligent machines will pan out. Maybe we will evolve an economy of what Silicon Valley types call “radical abundance”, where machines do all the boring jobs and humans concentrate on having fun.

Or maybe a more dystopian outcome will happen instead, with millions starving while the super-rich cower behind high walls and powerful AI-based defence systems.

Technological unemployment is not impossible. It is complacent and irresponsible to say that it is, based on no evidence beyond what has happened in the past. We should be discussing it and working out how to handle it if it does happen. Failure to do so is the Reverse Luddite Fallacy, and it could be extremely dangerous for all of us.

The good news is that London Futurists will have a chance to hear Calum’s ideas – and to ask him searching questions – at our event on Saturday 8th October. I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Ahead of that, Economist writer Ryan Avent is going to be covering similar ground at an event at the LSE tomorrow (Monday) evening. I plan to be there, listening carefully.

6.) A constitution for progressive ethics?

Following discussions in the wake of various recent meetups, London Futurists is launching a project to organise the best of our collective thinking on the question:

  • What ethical principles should guide humanity as technology becomes increasingly powerful?

You can read more about the background to this project here. There’s also a page on H+Pedia where key arguments are being collected and analysed.

My thanks are due to Dil Green, for proposing the project, and to Gerd Leonhard, for delivering a talk to London Futurists which highlighted the need for this kind of conversation to take place.

It’s a highly important question. We’ll welcome more people becoming involved.

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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