1.) Digital Dictatorship vs. Democracy, Mon 6 Aug
The algorithms employed in present-day digital technology have been found guilty from time to time of biases, prejudices, and weird misunderstanding – sometimes with serious consequences. But as futurists, we can have a reasonable expectation of improvements in that technology, in which it gains in reliability.
In such a future, will it ever be right to relinquish democratic human control over key political questions? Perhaps the remaining flaws in digital technology will be judged as less severe that the many well-known flaws of human democratic decision processes?
I believe it’s well worth us debating the pros and cons of that idea. It’s a topic with some big implications for how individuals, businesses, and society as a whole, should approach digital technology.
Accordingly, London Futurists, in partnership with the Great Debaters Club, are holding a formal debate on Monday evening, with the motion “A digital dictatorship will create a better society than democracy”.
This event is kindly being hosted by the BIO Agency near Old Street.
Space is limited so advance registration is essential – via this link. That page also contains details of the speakers and timing. (Doors open at 6pm and attendees should be seated for 6.30pm.) A small number of tickets are still available as I write these words.
Opportunity for a volunteer: I’m looking for someone to oversee the video camera that will record this debate. In return, I’ll provide a free ticket for the event – or (if you have already registered) refund your ticket fee.
2.) The future of driverless vehicles, Sat 8 Sept
What impact will autonomous vehicles have on our lives? How safe will they be? Who should be in charge of the algorithms that operate these vehicles? How might driverless cars transform the design of cities? What will happen to car ownership? What will the consequences be for employment? And what other questions should we be thinking about, before we travel further down the road towards widespread adoption of driverless vehicles?
For a video on how a Thinking Box session works, and for more information about this project, visit http://thinkingbox.info/.
3.) The neuroscience of digital distractions – Tue 14 Aug
As someone with a long personal history in the smartphone industry (I’ve been carrying a personal digital assistant since 1988, when I started work at Psion), I’ve long been involved in discussions about the best way to manage our use of tech gadgets. I’m well aware that our smartphones can bring drawbacks as well as benefits.
Indeed, it has been said that humanity is changing from Homo Sapiens to Homo Distractus. Our tech gadgets sometimes seem to be well on the way to becoming our masters rather than our tools.
On Tuesday 14th August, Anastasia Dedyukhina will be addressing that issue in a talk entitled “Neuroscience of digital distractions”.
Here’s an extract from the Eventbrite page for the talk:
In this talk, Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina explores how the internet is changing our brain. Quoting the latest neuroscience research, she explains why our devices are so irresistible, how digital distractions are preventing us from good decision making and innovative thinking, and will give practical tips on how to coach your brain to stay focused in the age of digital distractions.
Does it happen to you to go check your email or social media just for a second, and then two hours later find yourself mindlessly clicking on yet another cat video? How about reading something online, and then immediately forgetting what it was about? You are not alone.
Our brain is undergoing a massive transformation as a result of internet penetration. We outsource our memory to Google, and are less and less able to concentrate on something for a long time (when was the last time you could read a book without being distracted?). The real cost of allowing your gadgets to dictate your agenda and behaviour is your depleted ability to take decisions, stay focused, think clearly and creatively, sleep well, and ultimately, manage your own free time and choices. In this talk, you will learn how to take back control of your time and attention without getting rid of your tech.
The venue for this talk is Juju’s Shoreditch, Ely’s Yard, 15 Hanbury St, London E1 6QR. To take part, advance registration via Eventbrite is required.
Unfortunately I’ll miss this particular talk due to being overseas that day (see news item 7 below), but I anticipate that many London Futurists will find it thought-provoking.
4.) Longevity film competition – entry deadline 15 Sept
What’s your favourite short film on the subject of healthy aging and the importance of addressing age related disease?
I have a fond spot for this montage of photographs of four sisters taken every year starting in 1976 (see this New York Times article for some background):
Although beautifully shot, that film has the drawback of suggesting an inevitability of aging. A video that suggests we have big choices in the matter is this short from Canada, which asks the question, “Will you grow old with vitality, or get old with disease?”
If you have 13 minutes to spare, and you haven’t seen it already, I recommend this marvellous recent CGP Grey animation of Nick Bostrom’s parable from 2005, “The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant”:
In summary, videos can be a powerful tool in changing ideas – such as ideas about the inevitability of aging.
For this reason, a number of organisations – the SENS Research Foundation, The Healthy Life Extension Society and the International Longevity Alliance – are jointly running a Longevity Film Competition with some significant prizes.
Here’s an extract from the competition website:
Dear citizen, dear artist, dear activist,
We are living in very interesting times, times of constant change. The scientific community is telling us that soon we could enjoy much healthier and longer lives thanks to technological advancements happening at an accelerated rate. The future can be bright and healthy and we want more people to know about this amazing prospect and want them to get involved in this important mission; the mission of healthy longevity.
However, describing something potentially beautiful is not always easy. We think you can help by making a (very) short movie conveying that a longer and healthier life thanks to sustainable medical interventions, will be a very positive thing for citizens and society alike.
Help us spread the word in the right way, help us make sure people understand this is about health and that for the first time in history the possibility of tackling aging is not science fiction, but science fact.
First prize is $10,000. Films can be submitted any length from 1 minute to 20 minutes. Since the deadline is September 15th, there’s still time for you to become involved.
5.) How to rig an election – Sun 30 Sept
An event taking place at London’s Conway Hall on the afternoon of Sunday 30th September has caught my eye.
Here’s an extract from the web page for the event:
Contrary to what is commonly believed, authoritarian leaders who agree to hold elections are generally able to remain in power longer than autocrats who refuse to allow the populace to vote. In their exciting and high profile new book, Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas explain how counterfeit democrats are able to use elections to remain in power, and reveal the six essential strategies that dictators use to undermine the electoral process in order to guarantee victory.
Based on their first hand experiences as election watchers and their hundreds of interviews with presidents, prime ministers, diplomats, election officials, and conspirators, Cheeseman and Klaas document instances of election rigging from Argentina to Zimbabwe, including notable examples from Brazil, Kenya, India, Nigeria, and Russia. This eye-opening study offers a sobering overview of corrupted professional politics, while providing fertile intellectual ground for the development of new solutions for protecting democracy from authoritarian subversion.
6.) Sustainable Superabundance: The Technoprogressive Plan
In case you’re wondering about the progress of my own projects to encourage and enable better politics, here’s a quick update.
Inspired by the goal of communicating more simply, more powerfully, and more engagingly, I have been reworking some of my previous written material into a forthcoming new book. It’s intended to be something that will fit comfortably into a pocket, and which can be read quickly.
The present working title is “Sustainable Superabundance: The Technoprogressive Plan”. Parts of the content are available for public viewing here. It’s undergoing fairly rapid change – in part due to helpful feedback from various early reviewers. (For the time being, you can submit comments directly into this Google Doc.)
Here’s a snapshot copy of the entirety of the first chapter:
Beyond the fear and chaos of contemporary life, there is good news to share.
A new era is at hand: the era of sustainable superabundance. In this era, the positive potential of humanity can develop in truly profound ways.
The key to this new era is to take wise advantage of the remarkable capabilities of twenty-first century science and technology: robotics, biotech, neurotech, greentech, collabtech, artificial intelligence, and much more.
These technologies can provide all of us with the means to live better than well – to be healthier and fitter than ever before; nourished emotionally and spiritually as well as physically; and living at peace with ourselves, the environment, and our neighbours both near and far.
This is not a vision of today’s society writ large – a mere abundance of today’s goods, services, activities, and rewards. It’s a vision of a superabundance, with new qualities rather than just new quantities.
This is not a vision of returning to some imagined prior historical period – to some misremembered bygone golden age. It’s a vision of advancing to a new society, in which all can freely participate, and in which all can enjoy unprecedented benefits.
This is not a vision of a fixed, rigid utopia. It’s a vision of the collaborative creation of a sustainable, open-ended, evolving social framework. In this new framework, every one of us will be empowered to make and follow our own choices without fear or favour.
The sky will no longer be the limit. The cosmos beckons, with its vast resources and endless possibilities. Our destiny lies in the ongoing exploration and development of both outer and inner space, as we keep reaching forwards together to higher levels of consciousness and more profound experiences.
But first, we face some hard, critical choices – choices that will determine our future. We need to select and uphold the set of priorities that will facilitate the timely emergence of sustainable superabundance.
If we choose well, constraints which have long overshadowed human existence can soon be lifted. Instead of physical decay and growing age-related infirmity, an abundance of health and longevity awaits us. Instead of collective dimwittedness and blinkered failures of reasoning, an abundance of intelligence and wisdom is within our reach. Instead of morbid depression and emotional alienation – instead of envy and egotism – we can achieve an abundance of mental and spiritual wellbeing. Instead of a society laden with deception, abuses of power, and divisive factionalism, we can embrace an abundance of democracy – a flourishing of transparency, access, mutual support, collective insight, and opportunity for all, with no one left behind.
If we choose well, the result will be liberty on unparalleled scale. The result will be people everywhere living up to their own best expectations and possibilities, and then more. The result will be a transformed, improved humanity, taking the next steps in evolution. The result will be to advance beyond mere humanity to transhumanity.
Time for action
It is time for technoprogressives around the world – vanguards of this momentous transformation – to inspire people everywhere to organise in anticipation of the era of sustainable superabundance.
It is time for technoprogressives to affirm how 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. Whereas the evolution of society has been dominated for centuries by economic matters, centre stage can soon feature the blossoming of abundance.
At present, we can only glimpse the outlines of the coming era of sustainable superabundance. It is the fundamental responsibility of technoprogressives to discern these outlines more clearly, and to help humanity as a whole envision and navigate the pathways ahead.
Together, let’s map out constructive solutions to the obstructions and distractions that impede human progress. Let’s build alliances that weaken the forces resisting positive change. With the growing momentum of an inspirational techoprogressive movement, let’s overcome the grasp on power held by today’s backward-looking vested interests. And through a emerging shared understanding of the vital benefits technoprogressive policies can bring to everyone, let’s 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 superabundance. Let’s organise our researchers, our creatives, our businesses, and our activists in service of this historic cause. Let’s transcend our present-day preoccupations, our unnecessary divisions, our individual agendas, 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 sustainable superabundance.
7.) For any London Futurists in Malaysia, 13-15 Aug
It’s my pleasure and honour to be the opening keynote speaker on Monday 13th August at the World Engineering, Science and Technology Congress (ESTCON2018) taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
If you happen to be in the vicinity that day, consider registering to attend!
8.) For any London Futurists in Birmingham, Tue 11 Sept
Funzing have asked me to visit Birmingham on Tuesday 11th September to do an updated version of my talk on assessing the super-risks and super-opportunities of forthcoming super-intelligent AI.
Should we follow in the footsteps of Elon Musk and be very worried about the prospects? Should we be, like Mark Zuckerberg, more confident and optimistic about the benefits improved AI can bring? Or is this whole debate a distraction from more pressing near-term concerns?
Topics I’ll be covering in this talk include:
- The meaning of terms like “singularity” and “intelligence explosion”
- Five factors that are accelerating progress in AI
- Scenarios in which superintelligence might arise within as little as ten years time
- Common fallacies and misunderstanding in discussions over superintelligence
- Five ways in which superintelligence could knock humanity off trajectory
- Positive steps that are now being taken to ensure a beneficial outcome for A.I.
For more information, and to register to attend, click here.
// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists