London Futurists news, 4 May 2018

Dear Futurists,

I’m in Korea and China for a few days (see below for some thoughts about the role of these countries in the global future), but my email inbox keeps bringing me updates about events and projects of potential interest to Londoners. Let me share a few points:

1.) London Tech Week and London Futurists

London Tech Week banner

The week from 11th to 17th June has been dubbed “London Tech Week”:

London becomes the back drop for a week long festival of tech and innovation once again this June. The festival brings together 55,000 attendees to enjoy hundreds of events taking place across the city. See event listing here.

2018 will witness the boldest festival yet with:

  • 300 crowd-sourced, summits, conferences, expos, gala dinners and parties
  • 55,000 attendees – converging the London tech scene with international tech enthusiasts
  • Showcasing the best of tech and driving change across London

London Tech Week is said to be “London’s largest crowdsourced festival of tech”. The above figures back up that claim.

London Futurists is happy to be one of the official partners of London Tech Week (LTW). One of our forthcoming events – the TechXLR8 Futurist Summit “Advice from 2023” – takes place during that week, as part of one of the largest components of LTW, namely the 3-day long TechXLR8 gathering in the ExCeL conference venue.

As a reminder about “Advice from 2023”, here’s an excerpt from the event page:

If your future self, in the year 2023, could send a message for you to consider now, in 2018, what would the content be?

The TechXLR8 Futurist Summit will feature a range of technologists and researchers who will share their best guesses at the advice our future selves might wish to transmit back to us, five years earlier. Which technological trends have the potential to deliver the most surprise? How might society react to these trends? What disruptive changes could take place in the attitudes of consumers, business partners, legislators, and political leaders? Which present-day buzzwords will prove to be the most exaggerated and distracting? Which emerging threats and opportunities deserve the most attention, as we set out on the journey from the present day towards 2023? And how should we prepare for these potential gales of transformation ahead?

At the Futurist Summit you’ll be able to witness a series of TED-style talks, “Advice from 2023”, interspersed with rapid Q&A that draws out the interplay and the contrasts between the different speakers. The speakers will highlight ways in which businesses and organisation in 2023 won’t simply be operating the same way as today (except faster and cheaper), but might feature radically different practices and goals.

TechXLR8 FS cover 2

The TechXLR8 Futurist Summit is free to attend, but you’ll need to register beforehand for a free exhibition pass to TechXLR8 itself. See http://www.techxlr8.com.

2.) FREE VIP Guest Pass Offer to Future of Work Summit @ London Tech Week

Taking place on 14th June 2018, New Facebook Headquarters, Rathbone Place, London, the Future of Work Summit brings together business and technologies leaders with a strategic mandate for change. These speakers and panellists will be:

  • Anticipating the use of technology to improve workplace culture, employee wellbeing and organisational productivity
  • Debating what future leadership looks like, so that companies and organisations can hire the right people who will flourish within your business during the rapid changes ahead
  • Discussing how automation is going to change human resource as we know it to plan for your future investment talent scouting
  • Identifying ways in which your business can create a more transparent culture through the use of technology regardless of worker location

Future of Work Summit

Take a look at the agenda here. As you’ll see, expert speakers at the Future of Work Summit include:

  • Bruce Daisley, VP EMEA, Twitter
  • James Poulter, Head of Emerging Platforms and Partnerships, The Lego Group
  • Sarah Drinkwater, Head of Campus, Google
  • Sarah Wood, Chair and Co-Founder, Unruly
  • Tom Loeffert, Human Resource Director, SAP
  • Jacqueline de Rojas, President, techUK

For the full set of speakers, see here.

20% discount is available to the London Futurists community when booking tickets for this Summit. Please quote TEC6338PTNR20 when you register. BOOK HERE.

And even better – for someone who can act fast – the first person to reply to  louise.turton@knect365.com mentioning London Futurists will receive a free VIP guest pass to the Future of Work Summit. In your email, please name the organisation your represent, and your role within that organisation.

3.) Tug Life IV, 12-15 June: 

During London Tech Week last year I had the pleasure to take part in one of the Tug Life III sessions, “What happens to humans as machines become more embedded in our lives?”

I enjoyed that session so much that I’ve agreed to be one of the speakers in the opening session of Tug Life IV this year (which is running, you guessed it, as a part of London Tech Week 2018).

Tug Life IV banner

The overall theme for Tug Life IV is “What does the collision of creativity, media and tech mean for humans?”. Sessions are spread over four days. Attendance is free, but places are limited. There are separate Eventbrite signup pages for each session. Take a look at the listing here and decide which sessions most catch your attention. (The organisers, Tug Agency, tell me that some additional details will be published over the next few days.)

I’ll be speaking on the morning of Tuesday 12th June, on the topic “What are we doing with technology? Is it good for us? What should we do about it? As individuals? As businesses? As government?” Other speakers for this session will include representatives from TalkToUs.AI, Microsoft, and Book of the Future. To register to attend, click here.

4.) Talks by Tom Lombardo on science fiction, wisdom,  and a flourishing future

Banner

Tom Lombardo, the Director of the Center for Future Consciousness, spoke last October at a London Futurists meeting introducing his latest book Future Consciousness: The Path to Purposeful Evolution. I’m pleased to report that book subsequently won the Network Book 2017 Award from the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN) for “a book written by a member that makes the most significant contribution towards a new world view.”

Tom will be giving the keynote address on this book at the annual meeting (July 6th to 8th, 2018) of the SMN in East Horsley, Surrey. See the SMN event webpage for more details of that event, and to register to attend.

In October this year, Tom has another new book coming out: Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future Vol. 1 – Prometheus to the Martians.

Tom and I would very much like to find a venue – and potentially an event partner – for Tom to give a presentation on this new book (including book signing) sometime during the period Monday 9th through Thursday 12th July. If you’re able to help take responsibility for the arrangements for such an event, please get in touch.

Tom provides the following abstract for this presentation:

An Introduction to Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future

Science fiction is the most visible and influential modern form of futurist thinking and imagination in the contemporary world. Why is science fiction so popular? Similar in myriad ways to the great myths of the past, science fiction speaks to the whole person—intellect, imagination, emotion, and the senses—providing expansive narratives that enlighten, motivate, and engage all dimensions of the human mind. Facilitating the holistic psychological development of what I refer to as “future consciousness”—our integrative awareness of the future—science fiction has, for many people, become a way of life and a way of experiencing reality and creating the future. As futurist narrative, science fiction encompasses the future of everything, and even extends beyond into alternative and higher dimensional realities.

This presentation introduces my new book series Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future. This series offers a sweeping overview of the evolution of science fiction, set within the history of culture, science, and philosophy, from the ancient Greeks to contemporary times—from Prometheus to Wells and Stapledon and to the “Singularity” and beyond—and highlights how science fiction has emerged as the most powerful and relevant mythology of contemporary times, informing and inspiring futurist thinking in our modern world.

In the talk I highlight how science fiction has been and continues to be distinctively effective, both psychologically and socially, in stimulating  holistic, integrative, and even cosmic human consciousness, particularly about the possibilities of the future.

The presentation describes the similarities and differences between ancient fantastical mythology and science fiction; the ways in which science fiction is a scientifically informed evolutionary mythology; and how science fiction both reflects and further advances the purposeful evolution of humanity, and in particular, how it uniquely and powerfully amplifies our future consciousness.

5.) The crisis facing liberal democracy?

Yascha Mounk is a writer, academic and public speaker who addresses the rise of populism and what he calls “the crisis of liberal democracy”.

Born in Germany to Polish parents, Yascha received his BA in History from Trinity College, Cambridge, and his PhD in Government from Harvard University. He is now a Lecturer on Government at Harvard University, a Senior Fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America, and Executive Director at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

Yasha writes as follows:

The world is in turmoil. From India to Turkey and from Poland to the United States, authoritarian populists have seized power. As a result, democracy itself may now be at risk.

Two core components of liberal democracy—individual rights and the popular will—are increasingly at war with each other. As the role of money in politics soared and important issues were taken out of public contestation, a system of “rights without democracy” took hold. Populists who rail against this say they want to return power to the people. But in practice they create something just as bad: a system of “democracy without rights.”

The consequence is that trust in politics is dwindling. Citizens are falling out of love with their political system. Democracy is wilting away.

Drawing on vivid stories and original research, the new book “The People vs. Democracy” identifies three key drivers of voters’ discontent: stagnating living standards, fears of multiethnic democracy, and the rise of social media. To reverse the trend, politicians need to enact radical reforms that benefit the many, not the few.

I see that Yasha is speaking at the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) at lunchtime on Wednesday 23rd May. At time of writing, there are still some tickets available.

Populism

I’ve downloaded an audio copy of Yasha’s book to my smartphone, and will be listening to it as soon as I’ve cleared some space in my Audible stack. (See this review for my thoughts on another audio book I’ve recently finished – “The Longevity Code”.)

I’ll be interested to compare and contrast the analysis of “The people vs. democracy” with that in my own recently published book “Transcending Politics”, which addresses many of the same themes.

(As a reminder, you can attend a Funzing event in which I’ll be speaking about ideas from “Transcending Politics” on Thursday 24th May. By the way, I’m told you can use the discount code “talk24” to obtain a 20% reduction from the ticket cost for that event.)

6.) Audio version of chapter on “Work and purpose” now available for listening

Ahead of the London Futurists 2nd June event on “Universal Basic Income and/or Alternatives: 2018 update”, I’ve been reminding myself of what I wrote on that topic in “Transcending Politics”.

Well, when I say “reminding myself”, what I actually mean is that I read the entirety of Chapter 4 of my book into a Zoom recording device (many sections several times over, because of tripping over my tongue). I then edited the whole recording, removing verbal fluffs.

The resulting audio file isn’t quite BBC broadcast standard, but people tell me it’s reasonably pleasant to listen to.

You can find that audio file, along with ones for the three preceding chapters of the book, on this page. The chapters are relatively independent of each other, so you ought to be able to make your own choice of where to start listening.

Chapter list with headphones

Here’s a brief extract, with a summary of my viewpoint:

Human partnerships with robots in the workplace are likely to pass through two phases:

  1. Initially, the combination results in productivity savings which allows business growth that in turn provides extra opportunities, overall, for the humans in the partnership
  2. Subsequently, the remaining tasks that the humans were performing fall under the reach of improved robots, so that the opportunities for these humans in that workforce decline again.

As robots improve their general purpose skills, the second of these phases is likely to dominate the overall story…

It is prudent to admit the serious possibility that technological unemployment:

  • May soar in extent within as little as 20 years
  • May already be having significant effects on the workforce, pushing increasing numbers of people into “precarious employment” or “involuntary underemployment” that is far from the kind of work they would prefer (though these effects admittedly remain difficult to disentangle from other factors such as globalisation and the weakening of collective bargaining)
  • May cause deepening social unrest sooner rather than later, unless meaningful measures are taken to start introducing a citizen’s income (or something broadly equivalent).

These possibilities add up to a powerful reason to consider, hard, how a citizen’s income system could operate, and (at least as difficult a question) how it could be introduced. Since the introduction may require many years of experimentation and gradual roll-out, we had better start sooner rather than later.

7.) AI Global Governance Commission

AI Global Governance

What do you think of the following proposal?

An “AI Global Governance Commission” should be established, composed of governments, industry and civil society, with the following objectives:

  • Agree on the vision for future AI global society by setting a framework composed of six guiding parameters: data governance, safety, ethics, purpose, trust and sustainability
  • Agree on and implement internationally respected policies fit for the future with AI, blockchain and other agile technologies focusing on: labour, education, taxation and competition by signing ‘AI Convention’ at the AI Global Governance Summit
  • Implement an open policy making system as a future AI global governance structure by prototyping a feedback loop mechanism between governments, industry and civil society.

If you’re like me, you will probably quibble with some of the wording of this, but see the proposed initiative as something worth supporting.

If so, you may be interested to add your signature to the letter attached to this webpage. I’ve already added my signature.

You may first want to do some more reading on that page, for example about the six proposed guiding parameters. (See the bottom of that page.)

The letter is addressed to several leading members of the UK Cabinet, including the Prime Minister.

House of Lords AI Report

The initiative in question arises from a comprehensive report issued on 16 April by the UK’s House of Lords: “AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?”

The report is an impressive piece of work – something that might help restore our confidence in the ability of (at least some) politicians to understand important technological matters.

If you just want to read the summary at the start of the report, you can find it here. If you’re really in a hurry, here are three paragraphs drawn from that summary:

Our inquiry has concluded that the UK is in a strong position to be among the world leaders in the development of artificial intelligence during the twenty-first century. Britain contains leading AI companies, a dynamic academic research culture, a vigorous start-up ecosystem and a constellation of legal, ethical, financial and linguistic strengths located in close proximity to each other. Artificial intelligence, handled carefully, could be a great opportunity for the British economy. In addition, AI presents a significant opportunity to solve complex problems and potentially improve productivity, which the UK is right to embrace. Our recommendations are designed to support the Government and the UK in realising the potential of AI for our society and our economy, and to protect society from potential threats and risks.

Artificial intelligence has been developing for years, but it is entering a crucial stage in its development and adoption. The last decade has seen a confluence of factors—in particular, improved techniques such as deep learning, and the growth in available data and computer processing power—enable this technology to be deployed far more extensively. This brings with it a host of opportunities, but also risks and challenges, and how the UK chooses to respond to these, will have widespread implications for many years to come…

The UK currently enjoys a position as one of the best countries in the world in which to develop artificial intelligence, but this should not be taken for granted. We recommend the creation of a growth fund for UK SMEs working with AI to help them scale their businesses; a PhD matching scheme with the costs shared between the private sector; and the standardisation of mechanisms for spinning out AI start-ups from the excellent research being done within UK universities. We also recognise the importance of overseas workers to the UK’s AI success, and recommend an increase in visas for those with valuable skills in AI-related areas. We are also clear that the UK needs to look beyond the current data-intensive focus on deep learning, and ensure that investment is made in less researched areas of AI in order to maintain innovation.

8.) Blockchain: Quantum leap forward or digital snake oil? Mon 2nd July

Blockchain is in the news a great deal recently. It even makes a number of appearances in the House of Lords report on AI (see previous item).

Is this attention justified? Not everyone agrees.

Blockchain_Poster_960

Intelligence Squared are hosting a debate on Monday 2nd July entitled “Blockchain: Quantum leap forward or digital snake oil?”

Blockchain, the technology on which Bitcoin is based, has gone mainstream. Until recently a subject confined to tech blogs and Reddit pages, it is earning huge amounts of column inches and airtime. Stories abound of Bitcoin millionaires and multimillion-dollar ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings). New cryptocurrencies are launched every week. People who don’t entirely understand what they’re buying are rushing to purchase Bitcoin for fear of missing out. And then there are the Bitcoin Cassandras, who say they’ve seen this sort of frenzy many times before and warn of impending bust even as new investors stampede towards this digital gold rush.

But what is blockchain anyway? Think of it as a digital ledger that records transactions in an immutable way for all to see. Or, as the Bank of England puts it: ‘A technology that allows people who don’t know each other to trust a shared record of events.’ That’s a phraseology that underplays just how exciting and transformational many think blockchain technology is.

Blockchain evangelists say cryptocurrencies are just the start of its usefulness and that the fate of Bitcoin is beside the point. They urge us to think of blockchain today in similar terms to the internet in 1995 – a thrilling and versatile technology that will revolutionise everything, sweeping away centralised authorities and finally delivering on the anti-establishment ideals of the early web. Startups have emerged in every sector – from finance to food sourcing to corruption-proof voting systems – aiming to displace incumbents with new blockchain-based models.

So is blockchain the revolutionary new paradigm its adherents claim, or just an elegant solution in search of a problem? With the movement’s grand claims for the future, overheated rhetoric and tendency to inspire major leaps of faith, is it assuming aspects of a cultish religion? Does blockchain really have the potential to do away with the system of centralised governments and corporations its biggest fans so distrust, or will it just be co-opted by them? And with the cryptocurrency network now consuming more power than some countries, is blockchain headed for a showdown with environmentalists?

To unpack exactly how blockchain works and explore these questions, Intelligence Squared are bringing together leading evangelists and sceptics, with the BBC’s Kamal Ahmed in the chair.

The speakers lined up for this event are:

As a reminder, if you have clear views on the interplay of Blockchain and transhumanism, you have until 23rd June to submit an essay (recommended length 2,000-4,000 words) on the topic Mutual Benefits of Blockchain and Transhumanism as an entry for the Humanity+ prize contest of that name. The winner of first prize will receive $5,000.

websiteblockchain_1

9.) Tangential thoughts from Korea and China

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m spending a few days in Korea and China. Earlier this week, I took a trip to the top of Lotte World Tower in downtown Seoul.

Opened in April last year, this building is described as the fifth tallest building in the world. The elevator from the ground floor to the top floor took just 60 seconds, and was accompanied by animated videos displayed on the walls of the elevator that gave the impression the elevator was actually flying upwards above Seoul (the graphics were synchronised with the acceleration of the lift). It was a remarkable experience.

Landmark of Korea

Having gained an interest in the world’s tallest buildings, I consulted the Wikipedia list of that category. This list covers all buildings with a height of at least 350 metres. And here’s the stunning statistic: of the 56 buildings, no fewer than 27 (48%) are in China.

Only three of the list are in Europe. And all three of these are in Russia.

Of course, there’s more to determining the dynamism of a country than the number of tall buildings it is able to create. But this is just one of several examples of the vitality of the economies (and underlying technological drive) of both Korea and China.

And it’s a reminder that countries such as the UK should best avoid any naive battle for dominance in the future. Far better to find ways to build bridges (of the metaphorical kind).

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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