If only we knew what we knew

Dear Futurists,

If only we knew what we knew…

Collectively, the members and friends of London Futurists possess a remarkable range of knowledge and wisdom about almost every field of human life.

My task, as chair of the organisation, is to help all of us to understand and act on the most important insights that already exist, somewhere within our extended community.

To that end, I continue to evolve the set of ways that we use to interact with each other in our meetings and joint projects.

Accordingly, today’s meeting, Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity, will consist of two parts:

  • A Crowdcast, starting from 4pm BST today (Saturday 16th May)
  • An optional follow-on Zoom open discussion, which will start 10 minutes after the end of the Crowdcast.

The idea is to replicate, in the online world, the two-phase nature of physical London Futurists events:

  • A formal presentation with structured audience Q&A, usually in lecture rooms in Birkbeck College
  • An informal multi-group discussion, afterwards, in a nearby pub.

For the details of today’s activities, and other news which may interest you, read on.

1.) Today’s Crowdcast – from 4pm BST

Hacking Darwin 5

Three super speakers are lined up for later today:

  • Jamie Metzl, Technology Futurist and author, Hacking Darwin 
  • Nessa Carey, virologist, visiting professor, and author, Hacking The Code of Life
  • Joyce Harper, Professor of Reproductive Science, Institute for Women’s Health, UCL

You can read more about the speakers and their various books and activities on the Crowdcast registration page (which doubles as the page where the Crowdcast will take place).

There’s a small fee (UKP £2.50) which people are asked to pay when they register, to help cover the costs of running London Futurists. For people who judge themselves as unable to pay, there’s also a discount code which you can find by reading the registration page.

Once you’ve registered, you can help prepare for the conversation by clicking on the “Polls” button at the foot of the page. It presents the following question, and a range of answers to choose between:

Q: With which of the following statements about genetic engineering of human babies do you most agree?

  1. Despite the hype, meaningful genetic engineering of humans won’t be possible any time soon
  2. Genetic engineering should be made available to treat diseases but not to enhance human characteristics
  3. Engineering for enhancements should be available too, but not if changes will be passed on to future generations
  4. Other countries are bound to go ahead with significant genetic engineering, so we should not allow ourselves to be left behind
  5. Meaningful international agreements on genetic engineering of humans are both desirable and achievable
  6. Something else – please explain in chat

(It’s already been suggested that such a poll ought to cater for people wishing to put the various answers in ranked order, rather than requesting a single choice. That’s something I’m considering for future events.)

Towards the end of the Crowdcast, I’ll share in the Chat there a URL for a Zoom meeting where audience members can gather (after a 10 minute bio break) for an informal continuation of the discussion. (That Zoom meeting will be free of charge and no registration process will be needed. A single click should be sufficient to join it.)

2.) Today’s Zoom discussion – from c. 5:45pm BST

For those who make the transition from the Crowdcast to Zoom at around 5.45pm (see previous news item), there will be an opportunity to collectively consider a number of questions:

  1. Did anyone change their minds on any issue, as a result of today’s Crowdcast?
  2. What part of the Crowdcast made people most want to say “Yes! That’s important!”
  3. What part of the Crowdcast made people most want to say “No! That’s wrong!”

Depending on numbers, we’ll run part of this Zoom in parallel breakout rooms, to give more people a chance to speak up. The idea is to mimic the granular nature of informal discussion around multiple tables in a pub. Then the breakouts will reconvene, to share some of the most interesting points that arose.

Aside: I used breakout rooms for the first time in last week’s London Futurists event (video recording here). The experience was, in part, clunkier than I had expected, since not every participant could see how to accept the invite to move into a breakout room. However, in the meantime, I’ve found out that, as host of the event, there’s a meeting option I can use to make these transitions automatic. That should make the experience smoother for everyone. Live and learn!

Depending on time and group interest, we might also collectively discuss one more question: which topics would members of the community most wish to see as themes for events in the near future. As some potential answers, here’s a copy of a list of ideas I included in last week’s newsletter:

  1. What works of fiction are good for the future?
  2. Which apps and services can enhance emotional wellbeing, here and now?
  3. The future of spatial computing and immersive virtual events?
  4. The future of international institutions: a better design for better global relationships?
  5. Measurements for a healthier society: replacements for the GDP?
  6. Making decisions in the face of radical uncertainty?
  7. Options for transitioning into a post-work society?
  8. Defusing the race towards ever more powerful autonomous weaponry?
  9. Pathways to beneficial general artificial intelligence?

In terms of mimicking other aspects of the pub discussion, I’m afraid you’ll have to make your own provisions about drinks and snacks…

3.) Future fiction: Blinky’s Law

One of our members at London Futurists, Martin Talks, is publishing a future fiction novel called Blinky’s Law.

Martin’s book has been described as “a thrilling and comic science fiction adventure into the future”. It it is being billed as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meets the Terminator”.

Although a work of fiction, Blinky’s Law includes a number of fascinating scenarios about how emerging technologies might play out – from robots, to the Internet of Things, to quantum computing etc. At heart of the book is our relationship with technology and how that might best play out in the future. Martin, as well as being an active member of the London Futurists, works with technology companies such as Google and has been an entrepreneur in the digital space for many years.

The novel is currently on pre-order as a Kindle version globally via your local Amazon website and is due to be published on Thursday 27th May as a Kindle version, a paperback and as an audiobook. Just search online for “Blinky’s Law”. Martin tells me that if you send him a proof of purchase he is happy to send any London Futurist an advanced reader copy. His email is martintalks@gmail.com. His book also has a website at www.blinkyslaw.com.

Note: as you saw from the previous news item, we may well be holding a London Futurists event over the coming weeks on the role of science fiction in predicting the future.

4.) Aftershocks and Opportunities – Scenarios for a Post-Pandemic Future

A different kind of book is being published on 1st June, a collection of essays from 25 different authors entitled “Aftershocks and Opportunities – Scenarios for a Post-Pandemic Future”.

This book is being published by Fast Future. The CEO of Fast Future, Rohit Talwar, is running three webinars (with the same content) over the next few days, to share some of the findings of the book. Here’s a brief message from Rohit about these webinars:

In these initial webinars, as lead editor and a contributing author, I will share the opening scenarios presented in the book. I will also provide an overview of the other chapters which cover the broad themes of critical shifts and scenarios, society and social policy, government and economy, and business and technology. The session will close with a participant Q&A.

To book your place, visit the relevant website:

Details of the book and contributing authors can be found here for the eBook and here for print version. As a member of London Futurists, you can claim a 15% pre-launch discount on the book using coupon code AOSOC15 at checkout.

5.) Next Generation Foresight Practitioners Awards

Are you aged between 18 and 35, or have less than ten years’ experience as a foresight practitioner?

If so, then consider applying for the Joseph Jaworski Next Generation Foresight Practitioners (NGFP) Awards 2020, for a chance to win USD $15,000.

The application deadline is 31st May. For full details, see here.

The competition defines “foresight” and “foresight practitioner” as follows:

  • Foresight is a systematic way of engaging with uncertainty, through the exploration of alternative futures, including aspirational ones. As a discipline it has the potential to shape the future. It is not about predicting the future, but understanding your current and future operating environment. Insights gained from foresight equip communities and organisations to recognise and respond to emerging threats and opportunities by developing enhanced competitiveness, resilience and agility.
  • A foresight practitioner is anyone who takes a futures approach to their work to explore and understand the impacts of longer-term factors and drivers of change on the future, to better understand how different futures might evolve, and to generate insights for decisions made today.

As you can read on the competition website:

The NGFP awards recognise those helping to shape the future and improve lives through innovative strategic foresight. They aim to showcase stories of accelerating and scaling change in their communities towards a positive future. Through the awards we are seeking to identify change that is coming from a new generation — millennials, with new aspirations and values — from new geographies, with a growing foresight practice in Africa and Asia, and from second and third career practitioners entering the field from other domains, with fresh ideas and approaches.

This year there are two opportunities to apply – the Main Award and the Walkabout Prizes:

  • The Main Award is open to anyone between the ages of 18-35 or with less than ten years’ experience as a foresight practitioner. It will support one Winner and a cohort of Special Awardees to develop both personally and professionally. You can enter as an individual or as a team of up to ten people.
  • The Special Awards are for specific geographic regions or focal topics. Special awardees will join the NGFP Fellows. This year two of the Special Awards will be funded. Africa and Asia Special Awards will be supported by USD $5,000.
  • The Walkabout Prizes will support two individuals or teams between 18-25 years’ old to engage in their communities.

Eligible applicants will be invited to join a global sensing-network of future-alert activists. Our long-term ambition is to accelerate the transformation of the next generation of changemakers using foresight as a key tool to envision a better global future. We are motivated by the belief in the potential for everyone to engage in anticipating and shaping futures. The awards, programme and sensing network exist to democratise futures practice by providing a platform for diverse voices.

Wishing the NGFP 2020 process a great success!

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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