As we anticipate 2017, what should we keep foremost in our minds?
1.) Year end review
In 2016, the world at large has seen continuing technological progress. There has been heartening improvements in fields such as regenerative medicine, AI and deep learning, self-driving cars, lower cost solar energy, waste recycling, VR headsets, 3D printing, and gene editing. There’s much that should be celebrated.
But 2016 has also seen an escalation of frustration, anger, alienation, and divisive politics. Whilst we’re getting collectively smarter, we also risk becoming collectively stupider.
I’ve said on many occasions since the formation of London Futurists that “technology is changing everything”. But we need to add, “…not necessarily for the better”.
A similar phrase – “technology is eating politics (not necessarily for the better)” – has emerged as a summary for the Transpolitica 2016 event which took place on the 3rd of December. This phrase features in the press release which was issued after the event:
2016 has been a momentous year for politics. Will 2017 be a year of retrenchment and consolidation?
That would be unlikely according to participants at Transpolitica 2016, a London Futurists event which forecast powerful socioeconomic pressures and a rise in political turbulence in the face of the rapid pace of technological change.
Echoing the famous phrase of web software pioneer Marc Andreessen, “Software is eating the world”, the takeaway from Transpolitica 2016 is “Technology is eating politics”.
New technological possibilities urgently demand fresh thinking regarding potential regulations, restrictions, incentives, subsidies, and equality of access.
- Faster communications via social media, rather than delivering an Internet-enabled “wisdom of crowds”, have been multiplying the spread of fake news that ingeniously but maliciously propagates itself, sowing confusion and fracturing communities into opposing segments that operate within self-reinforcing antagonistic bubbles
- Rather than a useful discussion taking place between “experts” and the public, suspicion and distrust have increased dramatically, under pressure from change that seems too rapid and chaotic, and which evidently leaves too many people behind…
(You can read the rest of the press release here.)
Neither the “everything is getting better” narrative nor the “everything is getting worse” narrative does justice to the evolving complexity of human experience. My view, instead, is that “everything is becoming more precariously balanced”. There’s never been a greater need for better foresight and better social agility.
As the hours count down towards Christmas Day 2016, I want to thank everyone who has supported London Futurists over the last twelve months. The records on meetup.com show there were 23 London Futurists meetups during 2016, with a total audience size of 2,144 people. Collectively, we’ve been giving a lot of serious thought to the potential radical scenarios that could lie ahead. There has been a lot of lively discussion – sometimes entertaining, sometimes provocative, sometimes enlightening, and sometimes controversial.
But our task is far from complete. The wider public conversation on future scenarios remains, in most cases, far too simple-minded:
- It doesn’t take sufficient regard of the potentially rapid accelerating pace of change, across many sectors of human life.
- Nor does it sufficiently comprehend the rich intersections between factors from psychology, economics, politics, philosophy, entrepreneurship, science, and engineering. Just because a scenario is technically feasible does not mean it is socially feasible.
I therefore look ahead to London Futurists gaining a stronger, clearer voice in the global conversation in 2017. With your help, we can make it more likely that the present precarious civilisational balance tips away from collective madness towards collective wisdom.
2.) Thinking about fundamentals
The first two events in the London Futurists calendar for 2017 both address (in different ways) the topic of ethics. Here’s the start of the description of the event Progressive ethics in the digital age happening on Wednesday 11th January:
An important debate over ethical principles has become overdue. Should the widespread disruptions of the digital age alter our conceptions about morality and ethics? Which ethical principles from previous eras should we continue to uphold (perhaps with extra urgency)? Are there new considerations and realisations that we would want to inform our decisions about the future of technology and the future of humanity? In such discussions, what should our starting point be?
Here’s the context. Rapidly advancing technology is placing within our reach unprecedented power to remake human bodies, human minds, and human society. Age-old constraints and limitations are being swept aside. But just because we now have the opportunity to remould human character, it does not follow that we should take these steps. If our viewpoint is too short-sighted, or too techno-centric, we might miss the bigger picture. We might edit key features of human nature in ways we’ll soon come to regret. Like King Midas of old, we may discover that our wishes have devastatingly bad consequences.
This event, which is jointly organised by GlobalNet21 and London Futurists, will feature a number of panellists offering some opening thoughts on the topic of “progressive ethics in the digital age”. Audience members will then be welcome to join the conversation.
And this is from the description of the event Effective Altruism: The future of doing good deeds happening on Saturday 21st January, featuring Sam Hilton, the Founder and Director of Effective Altruism London :
How will current and future trends change the way we seek to do good in the world?
We live in a global society where we can effect others around the world at a moment’s notice – making it ever harder to turn a blind eye to the suffering of those out of our sight.
We live in a data-driven society where evidence and science mean that when we try to do good we can actually test, measure and find out what works and what does not.
We live in a society where morals change: where once tribalism, slavery, racism, and sexism were acceptable in society they are no longer. But what comes next?
On top of all this we live in a society that has the power to make the human race go extinct.
Effective Altruism is applying evidence and reason to the goal of making the world a better place. This talk will look into all of the above. It will explore how, if we care about others, we must adapt our daily lives and our ethical goals to be better at doing good deeds in the modern world.
3.) Thinking about the pace of change
Two further events in the 2017 calendar address (in different ways) the pace of technological change.
There have been more news stories about AI (artificial intelligence) in 2016 than in any previous year. London has recently been described as “The most important hub in the world” for AI. Interest in AI is clearly accelerating. But how well do we really understand AI? And how well do we understand what AI might become?
At this meetup, Daniel Hulme, CEO of Satalia, will be covering:
- A framework for understanding what AI is, and what it is not
- The future challenges and opportunities for AI
- The potential wider impacts of AI in the years ahead.
There will be plenty of opportunity for audience interaction and Q&A with the speaker.
And on Saturday 18th March, Azeem Azhar, the curator and publisher of the phenomenally interesting weekly newsletter “The Exponential View”, will be speaking on the topic The age of technology has arrived. Now what?
It is impossible to escape technology because as humans we are inextricably linked to it. What are the implications as the pace of technology increases? What are the most important things to understand, in order that we can become positive participants in this fast-changing world, rather than bewildered spectators or disoriented victims?
4.) Other forthcoming events
I’m currently in discussion with a number of other speakers about London Futurists events likely to take place in February, March, or April. Watch out for further news!
If you have any speakers or panellists in mind that you think would provide a valuable addition to London Futurists, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Most of our speakers are based in or near London, but we can include others when they happen to be travelling in our vicinity.
5.) Videos and follow-up from Transpolitica 2016
Videos of all the sessions from Transpolitica 2016 are now available embedded here.
If you prefer to view these recordings from a YouTube playlist, click here.
Many thanks to Kiran Manam for operating the camera!
One set of follow-up activities from Transpolitica 2016 has been announced by the Transhumanist Party UK (TPUK). The TPUK has set up a poll (initially hosted on Facebook):
Which transhumanist political projects would you be prepared to support during the first six months of 2017?
The Party’s NEC (National Executive Committee) are taking this opportunity to hear feedback and suggestions from members and supporters as to the initiatives we should prioritise.
At time of writing, the poll contains 14 options. (Participants of the poll can write in their own ideas.) The top five rated options are currently:
- Develop and publicise a plan for a positive transition to a world with lots more technological unemployment (21 supporters)
- Campaign for easier access to treatments likely to extend healthy longevity, e.g. metformin (17 supporters)
- Campaign for better use of technology to improve the operation of governance (13 supporters)
- Campaign to transform education to make it much more future-ready (9 supporters)
- Campaign for better use of technology to combat the spread of divisive fake news and other disinformation (7 supporters).
The poll will remain open until 11:30pm on Monday 2nd January.
The idea in each case is that people who say they’re willing to support a campaign will be invited to join a campaign group to decide next steps. The TPUK will start with the 2-3 most highly voted campaigns, and take things from there. Milestone accomplishments for each campaign will vary from group to group, but could include a press release, a petition, a white paper, the creation of videos, meme engineering, real-life meetings, and online Hangouts.
Members of London Futurists will be given the chance to participate in the campaign groups that are set up, since there could be support for these campaigns from people outside the membership of the TPUK.
6.) International Longevity & Cryopreservation Summit, Spain
Anyone interested in longevity (“Plan A”) and/or cryopreservation (“Plan B”) should take a look at the website for the International Longevity & Cryopreservation Summit which will be taking place in Madrid, Spain, on 27-28 May. Here’s an excerpt:
Spain will host the first International Longevity and Cryopreservation Summit during May 27-28, 2017. Fundacion VidaPlus will be the main organizer of this world congress, with the help of other leading associations and organizations working on longevity, indefinite lifespans, cryopreservation, and other biomedical areas.
I’ll be speaking there, along with a fascinating set of speakers from both inside and outside of Spain.
The conference predicts that it will become known as “The warmest cryonics conference”. I’m looking forward to it!
Note: I maintain a list of my forthcoming (and past) speaking engagements on the subject of longevity here.
7.) Seasons greetings!
I’ll end by sharing my best wishes for all readers to progress in 2017 towards a better future – towards a future in which humanity flourishes, rather than one in which we sink into a new dark age.
// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists