Moral Revolutions and Hacking Darwin

Dear Futurists,

I’ve been struck that many of you have taken the time to write to me, expressing thanks for the string of recent online London Futurists events, and sharing your thoughts about potential future projects.

Some of you have also mentioned the difficulties and strains being placed on your businesses and communities by the pandemic and lockdown. It’s clearly a deeply challenging time, with many people starting to question what were previously long-held personal beliefs.

I’ve been slow to respond to these emails and notes, but plan to catch up in replies shortly.

1.) Could Covid-19 spark a Moral Revolution? – Sat 2nd May

Covid and moral revolutions 4

If enough people question long-held personal beliefs, in the wake of the turmoil being experienced individually, in families, communities, and the wider society, might this lead to a moral revolution?

If so, in what direction might such a revolution turn? And would such a development be something we should welcome, or oppose?

These questions were the topic of a recent paper by Galway-based lecturer and philosopher John Dananer, “Will Covid-19 Spark a Moral Revolution? Eight Possibilities”.

To dig more deeply into these possibilities, John is joining the online London Futurists webinar this Saturday. We’ll also be joined by:

  • Diana Fleischman, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth
  • Anders Sandberg, Senior Research Fellow @ Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford

Given the intellectual firepower of the three participants – as well as their willingness to explore unpopular or unusual ideas fairly and squarely – I am anticipating a super discussion.

Note that this event will be starting at 4pm UK time (BST) on Saturday, which is two hours later than the traditional start time for our real-world Saturday afternoon events. The later start is to make it easier for people in western timezones to participate.

For more details, and to register for the event, head over to the Crowdcast page where the event is taking place.

If you like, you can also add your Yes RSVP to the corresponding Meetup page, as a way of letting friends and colleagues know you plan to take part. But you’ll need to register on Crowdcast to actually watch the discussion live, and to have the chance to ask questions that influence the direction the conversation takes.

2.) Post-Pandemic Government and Governance – TODAY, 1pm BST

A Fast Future webinar is taking place from 1pm-3pm BST TODAY (Thursday 30th April): “Post-Pandemic Government and Governance”.

The panel of speakers will be:

  • Miranda Mantey: Strategy and Foresight Analyst, ATB Financial, Calgary, Canada
  • Geoff Mulgan: CBE, Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy, and Social Innovation, University College London, UK
  • Claire Nelson: Lead Futurist, The Futures Forum, USA
  • Rohit Talwar: CEO, Fast Future (Moderator), UK

This webinar is free to register and attend.

You can register here, on Zoom.

Here’s an extract from the event description:

Amid the pandemic disruption, critical questions arise on the implications for government and governance. Questions also arise over global institutions’ scope and capacity to act and whether a new digital era ones requires new structures and mechanisms. Nationally, democracies question whether unity governments should replace party divides.

Others face choices emergency powers, when to relinquish them, and ensuring oversight. Operationally, many are learning how to run parliaments, government, and governance remotely. Finally, with electronic mechanisms introduced to tag, track, and trace, civil liberties issues also arise over state surveillance. Secondary questions also emerge over regulation of private sector operators of such services.

So, what could this all mean for the future of government and governance? In this session, a global panel of experts will share perspectives on these critical topics.

Given my own strong interest in reforming politics, I’ll be listening carefully!

3.) Priorities in building AI – TODAY, 6pm BST

Building the best-performing AI should take priority over building the most ethical AI.

Agree or disagree?

That’s the motion being debated this evening, in an online event running from 6pm to 8.30pm.

It’s taking place as the April event of the MKAI (Milton Keynes AI) meetup, as part of the ongoing MK Tech Fringe.

The event has been designed and takes place with the support of two Toastmaster districts (D91 and D71), two debating clubs (104 London Debaters Toastmasters Speciality Club and the Great Debaters Club), as well as London Futurists. It’s a great example of collaboration in action.

I’ll be setting the scene for the debate, which an opening keynote presentation, “The coming acceleration of AI: You ain’t seen nothing yet”.

It’s free to register and attend.

For full details, and to register to take part, click here.

4.) Artificial Intelligence: So what? – Mon 4th May

In my presentation this evening (see previous news item), I’ll be covering three questions about forthcoming disruptive new waves of AI development:

  • Why we can expect such waves to occur
  • What these waves may consist of
  • When these waves can be expected.

But I won’t have time to offer my thoughts on a fourth question:

  • So what – what should we care about these forthcoming disruptions?

This evening, that’s the question (in effect) that the other debaters will be exploring.

For my own views on the “so what” question – as well as a deeper dive into the “why”, “what”, and “when” questions – you can sign up for an online Feverup event taking place on Monday evening:

AI—Artificial Intelligence—is going to change everything, we’re told. It changes how we meet new romantic partners, and how countries go to war with each other. But how does AI work? In a time of seeming fast-paced change, with marketeers making sky-high claims for the powers of the products their companies are developing, how can we separate fact from fiction?

The details are here.

5.) Is Transhumanism the Future?

Daily Express journalist James Bickerton recently caught up with me in an video interview. One outcome was a short piece in the newspaper itself, “Robots could complete ‘all human tasks’ by 2050 claims transhumanist writer”:

There’s a 50 percent chance robots will be capable of completing “all human tasks” by 2050, allowing humans to move to a post-compulsory work society, according to a leading transhumanist thinker.

The claim was made by David Wood, president of the London Futurists and treasurer of the Transhumanist Party UK. Transhumanists believe humans can and should use technology to artificially improve on their biological capabilities…

Inevitably, some nuance is lost when arguments are condensed into tabloid format. For the fuller discussion, see this video on the FutureSnaps channel

Other interviewees on the same channel include Anders Sandberg. I’m in good company!

6.) Updates on TransVision events

2020 was intended to be the year of two TransVision events: one taking place in Los Angeles in August, and another taking place in Madrid in October.

As a reminder, the TransVision conferences have been running most years since 1998 (with some gaps), with the common underlying theme of

Advocating the ethical use of technology to expand human capabilities and transcend limitations

The latest news is that the Los Angeles conference has been rescheduled to 25-26 September 2021. Keep an eye on the Humanity+ website for updates.

The organisers of the Madrid conference are still hopeful that their event will go ahead as planned, from 16-18 October 2020. Check out the details here.

Conference chair José Cordeiro invites participation as follows:

Madrid will become the meeting point for this futurist celebration, where different groups from all over the world will meet to connect and work together closely.

The aim is to combine international meetings with local audiences and help promote futurist research and development in Spain and around the world. In partnership with pioneering sponsors, we will do our best in scientific propagation to make society aware of the new economy and the opportunities that will present themselves over the next two decades.

If you want to participate in the event, you can send your paper or presentation until July 31, 2020. If you would like to be part of our sponsors, institutional partners and allies, you can contact the organizing committee through our website.

We welcome you to the greatest futurist conference in history.

Come and enjoy the extension of life and the expansion of life in a country that never sleeps!

(but I expect the final sentence might need adjustment in the light of recent events).

7.) Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity

Our DNA is becoming as readable, writable, and hackable as our information technology. The resulting genetic revolution is poised to transform our healthcare, our choices for the characteristics of the next generation, and our evolution as a species. The future could bring breathtaking advances in human well-being, but it could also descend into a dangerous genetic arms race.

These claims are made in the recent book “Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity” by Technology Futurist Jamie Metzl.

Jamie’s view is that society isn’t at all ready for the fast-approaching future of widespread genetic hacking. That’s why he wrote his book.

The book has been widely praised. Here are some examples:

  • “An outstanding guide to the most important conversation of our lives” — Ray Kurzweil
  • “A gifted and thoughtful writer, Metzl brings us to the frontiers of biology and technology, and reveals a world full of promise and peril.” — Siddhartha Mukherjee MD
  • “If you can only read one book on the future of our species, this is it” — Sanjay Gupta

Given the strong public interest in the possibilities of using the latest technology in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, London Futurists are very fortunate that Jamie has agreed to speak with us about key themes from his book, his more recent research, as well as earlier books he has written.

This will be taking place from 4pm on Saturday 16th May. Two other panellists will be announced shortly. For more details, and to register to take part, click here.

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists


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