As I write these words, London Tech Week is well under way. An estimated 55 thousand participants from 90+ countries are taking part in what is said to be over 300 tech-related events in and around London this week.
One disappointment for me, so far, is the number of times I have heard speakers at these events say something like the following:
Disregard all predictions you may hear about the longer term. Concentrate on the here-and-now. Prioritise the urgent, and ignore troublesome scenarios posed by futurists, since they’re unlikely to come true. What do these futurists actually know? Much less than they claim. Especially disregard any talk about major risks happening in a decade or more’s time, because that’s just science fiction dystopia. The world of business has coped with surprises in the past, and will surely cope with surprises in the future too.
I take this as a sign that we futurists still have a lot of work to do:
- To highlight thoughtful, careful scenario analysis, as distinct from the sensationalist articles that are designed to generate clicks, but which give futurism a bad name
- To underline the reasons for taking seriously the possibility of profound new technological changes – and major social reactions to these changes – happening in as little as ten years
- To explain the advantages of thinking about these scenarios now, and of commencing significant steps in anticipation of such developments.
That’s what London Futurists is set up to do. Read on for some specific examples.
1.) Advice from 2023 – Thurs 14th June
This is now the third year in a row in which London Futurists have organised a “Futurist Summit” as part of the annual TechXLR8 show during London Tech Week.
In the previous two years, the Futurist Summit was held on one of the (many) peripheral stages at the TechXLR8 venue. On this occasion, we’re on the main stage – the same location where, at various times, the high profile “headliner keynotes” of TechXLR8 will be given.
The speakers at the Futurist Summit may lack the high public profile of the most famous of the TechXLR8 headliners, but to my mind the advice they’ll be offering is particularly relevant. The theme for the Futurist Summit is “Advice from 2023”:
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.
The Futurist Summit is part of the free content of TechXLR8. (There’s a considerable amount of other free content worth checking out as well.) But you do need to register in advance. Point your browser at http://www.techxlr8.com and click on the button “Register as a Free Visitor”.
Three other points are worth bearing in mind:
- TechXLR8 is taking place at the London ExCeL venue, which can be reached via the DLR (see this page for various travel options)
- The ExCeL centre is ENORMOUS. Even after you arrive there, you’ll probably have to walk around 15 minutes to reach the part of ExCeL where TechXLR8 is taking place
- The halls dedicated to TechXLR8 are themselves HUGE. It may take you another 15 minutes to locate the Main Stage inside these halls.
As a reminder, here’s the schedule for the Futurist Summit:
12.40: Chair’s welcome – David Wood
12.50: Rediscovering our humanity – Matt O’Neill, independent futurist
13.10: Security: through Renewal or through Protection? – David Bent, independent sustainability advisor
13.30: Values and the tech industry – Katy Cook, Founder of the Centre for Technology Awareness
13.50: Advertising in 2023 – Tom Ollerton, Innovation Director, We Are Social
14.10: Career advice from 2023 – Laura Thomson, Training Director, Phenomenal Training
14.30: New fuels and new tools – Jim O’Reilly, Strategist, Vital Growth
14.50: Seize the bitcoin moment – Dil Green, Digital Anthropology Blogger
15.10: Schrodinger’s future: 2023 and beyond – Paul Imre, independent futurist
15.30: From AI to Brexit: Coping with multiple shocks and disruptions – Rohit Talwar, Founder and CEO of FastFuture Research
15.55: Concluding remarks – David Wood, Chair of London Futurists
2.) The Transhumanist Abundance Manifesto
Also in time for London Tech Week, I’ve issued for review the first draft of a new document called “The Transhumanist Abundance Manifesto”.
Here’s how it starts:
A new era is at hand – the era of transhumanist abundance.
Humans everywhere, it is time for us to organise ourselves to boldly advance into that new era.
If we act wisely, and take full advantage of the remarkable fruits of science and technology, what lies ahead of us is the politics of paradise – a sustainable, open-ended, evolving abundance in which everyone can freely participate.
The constraints which have long oppressed human existence can soon be lifted. Instead of physical decay and growing age-related infirmity, an abundance of superhealth and superlongevity is available. Instead of cognitive failures and collective stupidity, an abundance of superintelligence and superwisdom awaits us. Instead of debilitating depression and emotional alienation, we can achieve an abundance of mental and spiritual super-wellbeing. Instead of a society laden with abuses of power, layers of deception, and divisive factionalism, we can embrace an abundance of superdemocracy. The result will be liberty as never before.
The cosmos beckons, with its vast resources and endless possibilities. Human destiny lies in collaborative exploration of both outer and inner space, as we keep reaching forwards to higher levels of consciousness and experience.
As transhumanists, we affirm that the future can be hugely better than the present. Human nature is but a starting point for the journey to extraordinary posthuman capability. Whereas the evolution of life has been blind for billions of years, it is now passing into our conscious, thoughtful control.
At present, we can only glimpse the outlines of the coming era of abundance. It is the historic destiny of transhumanists to discern these outlines more clearly, and to help humanity as a whole envision and navigate the pathways ahead.
Together, we can map out constructive solutions to the obstructions and distractions that impede our progress. We can build alliances that weaken the forces resisting positive change. Through an emerging understanding of the benefits transhumanism can bring to everyone, we can transform fearful opposition step-by-step into willing partners.
Together, let’s apply our skills, our time, and our resources to paint more fully the picture of sustainable transhumanist abundance. Let’s organise our businesses, our researchers, our creatives, and our activists in service of this uplifting cause. Let’s transcend our present-day preoccupations, our unnecessary divisions, our vested interests, and our inherited human limitations. Let’s grasp the radical transformational power of new technology to profoundly enhance our vision, our wisdom, our social structures, and our effectiveness. In this way, we can accelerate the transition to abundance, with no one left behind.
You can read the longer public version here. There’s also a working Google doc version that, in addition, contains the start of an FAQ about the content of the Manifesto. You’re all welcome to leave your comments and suggestions inside the Google doc.
I was led to develop the Manifesto by reflecting on a number of developments over the last few months. This includes discussions at the recent London Futurists conference on Universal Basic Income and/or Alternatives. Another factor influencing my thinking is the responses to my book Transcending Politics. Whilst I’m pleased at the content of that book, I can see that many readers would prefer a simpler introduction to the subject. Hence the Manifesto.
3.) Videos from the UBIA 2018 conference
I’m gradually working my way through the recordings made at our UBIA 2018 conference held on 2nd June. So far, the first three have been published, and more should follow over the next few days.
As you can see, the completed videos are being embedded on the UBIA 2018 event webpage – in the section containing the schedule for the day.
The videos are also being put into their own playlist on the London Futurists YouTube channel.
I hope you find them interesting to watch. It’s certainly an interesting process for me to review the content in the process of preparing it for publication.
As I see things, the arguments about UBI fall into two stages:
- The problem to be solved: How stable, reliable, and desirable is our current social contract, under forces (such as technological automation) that may grow in scale?
- The response to the problem: To what extent should a UBI be introduced as part of a set of remedies to address the failings (and potential greater failings ahead) of our current social contract?
Some critics of UBI (including some of the speakers at UBIA 2018) agree that there’s a problem to be solved, but reject the idea that UBI has a significant role to play in solving the problem. Other critics reject even the fact that there’s a problem to be solved.
4.) A US presidential candidate’s book about UBI
If you are impatient for good quality material discussing UBI, let me recommend a book that I’m currently in the process of reading.
The title of the book may initially seem strange: “The war on normal people”. But as you read the book, it soon becomes clear what’s meant.
The subtitle is more straightforward: “The truth about America’s disappearing jobs and why Universal Basic Income is our future”.
The author, Andrew Yang, is an entrepreneur who has announced that he is running as a candidate to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for the US Presidential race of 2020. Here’s a video of the announcement of his campaign:
I confess that, when I first heard about Andrew Yang’s presidential bid, I assumed his book would be relatively light weight. How wrong I was!
Actually so far I’ve only found the time to read the first two thirds of the book. This covers the “problem statement” (see item #3 above). I haven’t yet reviewed the remaining chapters, which sets out the proposed solution (which involves UBI). But the problem statement struck me, again and again, as profound. It’s very well researched. And it’s also true to the tagline of Yang’s presidential campaign: “Humanity First”.
5.) Humanity+ Prize essay – deadline 23rd June
If you have views on the potential relevance of blockchain to transhumanism (and/or the relevance of transhumanism to blockchain), there’s still time for you to submit an essay to the prize contest being run by Humanity+ on that topic.
There are three prizes of $1,000 each available, and a grand prize of $5,000. The details are here. The deadline for submissions is 23rd June.
6.) Are we living in a New Dark Age? Mon 25th June
The theme of a potential future “new dark age” is one that features heavily in my own writing, so I was interested to note that phrase used as the title of a new book by Guardian columnist James Bridle. The full title of the book is New Dark Age: Technology, Knowledge and the End of the Future.
Virtual Futures are holding an event on Monday 25th June in which James Bridle will be talking and answering questions about his book. The details of the event are here:
We live in times of increasing inscrutability. Our news feeds are filled with unverified, unverifiable speculation, much of it automatically generated by anonymous software. As a result, we no longer understand what is happening around us. Underlying all of these trends is a single idea: the belief that quantitative data can provide a coherent model of the world, and the efficacy of computable information to provide us with ways of acting within it. Yet the sheer volume of information available to us today reveals less than we hope. Rather, it heralds a new Dark Age: a world of ever-increasing incomprehension.
In his brilliant new work, leading artist and writer James Bridle offers us a warning against the future in which the contemporary promise of a new technologically assisted Enlightenment may just deliver its opposite: an age of complex uncertainty, predictive algorithms, surveillance, and the hollowing out of empathy.
Surveying the history of art, technology and information systems he reveals the dark clouds that gather over discussions of the digital sublime.
I’ve registered to attend, and look forward to the conversation that evening.
7.) Further discussion of London Futurists events and projects
Meetup.com is great for informing people about forthcoming events, but (as many of you have often remarked) it has poor functionality for discussing matters arising in connection with events.
For that reason, we’re experimenting with Slack. The initial signup link I posted earlier has now expired, so here’s a new one. It will remain valid for the next 30 days.
I look forward to you joining the discussions and contributing where you feel most strongly!
// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists