London Futurists news, 16 Jan 2017

Dear Futurists,

1.) Deciding the best use of our time and resources

If we want to make a tangible positive impact on the world, how should we prioritise the use of our time and resources?

How can we decide between the myriad of different pressures on us – “please help this good cause”, “this NGO deserves your support”, “this project will solve a major world problem”, “stop what you’re doing right now and do this instead”, “read this book as a priority”, “here’s how your contributions can make a big difference”, “don’t look away now”…?

The Effective Altruism community have put a lot of collective thought into the question of “Doing good better”. That phrase is the title of a book by Oxford professor William MacAskill. Here’s the description of that book:

Most of us want to make a difference. We donate our time and money to charities and causes we deem worthy, choose careers we consider meaningful, and patronize businesses and buy products we believe make the world a better place. Unfortunately, we often base these decisions on assumptions and emotions rather than facts. As a result, even our best intentions often lead to ineffective—and sometimes downright harmful—outcomes. How can we do better?

While a researcher at Oxford, trying to figure out which career would allow him to have the greatest impact, William MacAskill confronted this problem head on. He discovered that much of the potential for change was being squandered by lack of information, bad data, and our own prejudice. As an antidote, he and his colleagues developed effective altruism, a practical, data-driven approach that allows each of us to make a tremendous difference regardless of our resources. Effective altruists believe that it’s not enough to simply do good; we must do good better.

At the core of this philosophy are five key questions that help guide our altruistic decisions: How many people benefit, and by how much? Is this the most effective thing I can do? Is this area neglected? What would have happened otherwise? What are the chances of success, and how good would success be?


Five years after the coining of the term “Effective Altruism”, that movement has run a series of international events, and has developed a vibrant network of people interested in sharing experiences and insights from trying to act on the associated ideas.

This Saturday, the Founder and Director of Effective Altruism London, Sam Hilton, will be talking at London Futurists on the subject “Effective Altruism: The future of doing good deeds”. Sam will be bringing us up-to-date on ways people can use evidence and reason to achieve their altruistic goals. We’ll be in one of the rooms in our usual venue, Birkbeck College, in Central London.

Click here to find out more details and to RSVP.

2.) The role of ethics in an increasingly digital age

The question of choices – the constraints we decide to put on ourselves in the face of freedoms to do all sorts of different things – is also being addressed in an ongoing London Futurists project “Project for a Progressive Ethics (PfPE)”. Dil Green has created a small wiki-based site to flesh out some ideas and background, here.

The same topics featured in a joint event on the 11th January with GlobalNet21, “Progressive ethics in the digital age”.


My own slides from this event are available via SlideShare. And here’s a recording of the live video stream (with occasional glitches where the uplink connection briefly failed during the event, apologies):

As you can see from the subsequent online comments, audience feedback was that the event was “thought-provoking”, “very informative”, and “a stimulating primer par excellence”, “with superb discussion”. But it’s also clear that many key questions remain to be resolved. That’s why London Futurists will maintain a focus on this area.

3.) Talk this Thursday in Cambridge on The Case for the Abolition of Aging


I’ll be speaking at the Cambridge University Longevity Society on Thursday evening this week. The meeting will be in Lecture Room 11 of the Department of Engineering. London Futurists who are in the neighbourhood will be welcome to join. For more details, see this Facebook event page. Here’s an extract:

This talk will set out the argument for why the abolition of biological aging by 2040 is both feasible and desirable. The speaker will outline four credible scenarios for the future of healthy aging – “optimistic”, “realistic”, “pessimistic”, and “abolitionist”. His talk will draw on insights from the philosophy of science, the field of foresight studies, examples from high-tech industries, and his own perspective as secretary of Humanity+ (the international transhumanist movement). Ultimately, his talk aims to explain what individuals can do to influence the probabilities for different scenarios, thereby maximising the opportunities being provided by the remarkable progress in science and technology.

4.) Best wishes to Manchester Futurists

London Futurists who are sometimes in the area of Manchester should check out the newly announced Manchester Futurists meetup. Well done to the organisers Rosie Campbell, Ahmed Razek, and Ian Forrester for already putting two events into their calendar:

5.) Best wishes to South West Futurists

The South West Futurists meetup, who meet in Bristol, are just over one year old. Their main organiser, Ben Byford, has run five meetups in that time, which is a great achievement from a standing start. The group looks like it’s going from strength to strength.

If you have a South West connection, consider attending their next event:

6.) Conference on “Society with AI”, Bath, 19-21 April

Dr Joanna Bryson of the University of Bath, who has attended and spoken at London Futurists events in the past, is one of the chairs of the forthcoming conference “AISB 2017: Society with AI”:

The AISB Convention is an annual conference organised by the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour, covering the range of AI, Machine Learning and Cognitive Science. This year’s theme: Society with AI, asked symposia to consider the ethical and social consequences for the changes we are bringing with the introduction of AI products and research.

The Calls for Papers of the individual symposia are now open; deadlines are mostly in January. The various symposia will accept a range of contributions from abstracts through papers and demos. Registration will open in January (costs are available now). Participation is open to the general public and encouraged across the full range of symposia and all three days.

Joanna explains:

We’d very much like support and participation from the London Futurists. Whilst this is the annual convention of the oldest AI society in the world (founded in Edinburgh 53 years ago :-), I very much want to make it inclusive for engaged citizens of all walks of life, and have priced the registration accordingly; offering the low-waged similar advantages as those normally offered academics, but asking the higher waged to help subsidise this.

Note that the calls for papers of the symposia are still open (all but one close in January though) and many are accepting abstracts, not just full academic papers.

Note: you may enjoy the following recent TechCrunch article: “You should read this super-interesting AMA with AI researcher Joanna Bryson”.

And don’t forget that Satalya CEO Daniel Hulme will be speaking to London Futurists on Sat 18th Feb on the closely related topic “AI and our Future”. (For more details of that event, and to RSVP, click here.)

7.) Mercer/Bloomberg event on “The Future of Work”

I’m honoured to be one of the panellists at the following event, “Hasta La Vista, workforce?” on Wed 8th Feb:


Mercer and Bloomberg invite you to attend the FUTURE OF WORK PITCH NIGHT for early-stage start-ups on Wednesday 8th February at the Bloomberg London office.

The world of work is changing rapidly and will always evolve. The rise of robots, AI and autonomous transport are increasing the speed of change and make it increasingly challenging to predict the direction of change. Some jobs, as we know them today, will disappear. Others will be created. 65% of current primary school children will end up in new job types that don’t even exist as yet.

Guests will hear from keynote speaker Helen Shan, Mercer’s Chief Financial Officer, and panellists including the most innovative minds in the European start-up world.

Join us to gain insights and experiences on current trends, and to share suggestions for the way forward!

Click here to register your interest in attending.

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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