Shocking ideas: implants, money, consciousness…

Dear Futurists

I don’t write in order to shock. But I expect that at least one – maybe more – of the news items below may provoke some visceral reactions.

We all have our intuitions about what sorts of ideas are broadly acceptable, and which others are, well, dangerous and naive. These intuitions usually serve us well. But in times of more rapid change, we sometimes need to put our initial reactions on hold, to give ourselves the breathing space to assess an idea more carefully.

Future shock can be a terrible thing…

1.) The Wallet of Tomorrow? – Tomorrow

Imagine having a small chip implanted in your arm, so you no longer need to carry a wallet with you. Instead, the vital functionality of the wallet is available by you merely waving your hand over a payment terminal.

That idea did not go down well with some of my social media friends. One sceptical reply was as follows:

Imagine a world where you can open and start your car just with your fingerprint. Imagine a world where thieves cut off your finger to steal your car.

And here’s another:

Having spent a part of my life living as far under the radar as possible, this is one aspect of ‘tomorrow’ that I will oppose for as long as there is breath in my body.

I’m therefore looking forward to some lively discussion at our event tomorrow afternoon, when Walletmor Founder and CEO Wojtek Paprota will make the case in favour of more people adopting this kind of implant technology.

Wojtek will be highlighting many advantages that you may not have previously considered. If you join tomorrow’s event, you’ll also find that he and his colleagues have put a lot of thought into the kinds of questions and concerns that may be on your mind.

For more details, and for links to how to obtain a slot in the Q&A portion of the Zoom webinar, click here.

2.) Funding the Covid recovery, and funding Basic Income – 13th Feb

Responding to the economic crisis of the Covid pandemic, the UK government has conjured up huge amounts of money for furlough schemes and other emergency measures. It has been the same in countries throughout the world.

How long can such spending continue? How will the financial budget be brought back into balance? Does a chilly blast of austerity lie ahead? Or has the importance of minimising the “national debt mountain” been seriously overstated?

Various heterodox economists dispute the importance of a “balanced budget” for a country, like the UK, which can create money by fiat. Potential paradigm shifts such as “Modern Monetary Theory”, “Bank Money”, and “Sovereign Money” are gaining more attention. These ideas are popular in some circles but provoke ridicule in others. It is claimed that they are recipes for runaway inflation and ruinous debt for future generations. Shocking and naive, right? Perhaps not…

How should we assess these approaches? Are they an inspired new way of understanding economic reality and “affordability”?

To find out more, join us on Saturday 13th February, where the speaker will be Geoff Crocker. In his presentation, Geoff will also be arguing that the present setting is the time to accelerate adoption of Basic Income. How might this be paid for? You guessed it, via the creation of debt-free sovereign money.

For more details, click here.

Note: this webinar is in partnership with Radix, “think tank for the radical centre”, and is part of Radix’s exploration of options for recovery from Covid.

3.) The hidden spring of consciousness – 6th March

From where does consciousness arise? In the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex? From somewhere else inside the nervous system? What is the connection between intelligence and consciousness? And could we create consciousness in new substrates, as an “artificial consciousness”?

Professor Mark Solms has spent his entire career investigating the mysteries of consciousness. Best known for identifying the brain mechanisms of dreaming and for bringing psychoanalytic insights into modern neuroscience, he is director of neuropsychology in the Neuroscience Institute of the University of Cape Town, honorary lecturer in neurosurgery at the Royal London Hospital School of Medicine, and an honorary fellow of the American College of Psychiatrists.

His recent book, “The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness”, has been widely acclaimed. Mark will be joining us on Saturday 6th March to reviewe the implications of his ideas for artificial consciousness.

For more details, click here.

4.) Videos of our past events

In the last few days, two videos from our previous events have become available.

If you missed these events, or you’d like to watch some parts again, here they are:

Reinventing democracy in the age of intelligent machines, with George Zarkadakis:

The future of cancer, with Kat Arney:

I greatly enjoyed watching these events again in the process of preparing the footage for publication. I hope you enjoy them too.

5.) Conflicting ideas about Artificial General Intelligence – Sun 7th Feb

Friends of London Futurists in the U.S. Transhumanist Party organise an online “virtual enlightenment salon” event most Sundays.

The one this Sunday – the day after tomorrow – looks especially interesting.

The subject is a debate on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI):

  • Is AGI likely to be benevolent and beneficial to human well-being without special safeguards or restrictions on its development?

You can watch the event live on YouTube, starting at 9pm UK time.

If you’re not sure what AGI would look like, consider today’s social media companies, but with algorithms that are much more ingenious than today’s. Once you started to look at a page, you’d been drawn further and further down the rabbit hole.

Or consider the all-seeing Chinese state, with a jet-propelled algorithm to evaluate how well every citizen conforms to standards of “social responsibility”, with no loopholes available for any dissident action, speech, or even thought.

Other models are possible, of course. I’ll be adding my own comments in real-time on the YouTube text chat window.

6.) Update on HEALES event on testing anti-aging treatments

Since I last mentioned the HEALES event on 11th February about best practice in testing anti-aging treatments in mice, humans, and other organisms, the list of speakers for that event has grown significantly.

The speakers list now features: Nir Barzilai, Vera Gorbunova, Harold Katcher, Greg Fahy, Mike Conboy, Rodolfo Goya, Josh Mitteldorf, Hanadie Yousef, Liz Parrish, Justin Rebo, Martin Lipovšek, Alexander Zhavoronkov, Polina Mamoshina, Irina Conboy, Didier Coeurnelle, Ilia Stambler, Sven Bulterijs, and Aubrey de Grey.

(Small print: the page also says “program is subject to change”.)

I send my congratulations to the organisers from HEALES and ILA. I also wish them the best of luck in keeping all these big hitters to a tight timetable!

7.) A new podcast: Cryonics Underground

My social media posting in the last few days which provoked the most shock and scorn was a link to a Financial Times Sifted article about a biostasis services startup, Tomorrow Biostasis.

Headline: “This startup will keep your dead body on ice for €30 a month”.

The article was pretty good in my view, despite some unhelpful imagery. (For example, the company in question only provide whole-body cryopreservation, rather than “putting a dead brain on ice”.)

One response to my posting:

One day we’ll laugh at all the people who thought that preserving people’s heads in cryostasis meant we could “bring them back”. That day is today.

My reply:

Just like the idea of a heart transplant used to provoke similar laughter and revulsion. Just like many railed against the seemingly preposterous idea of IVF. No, rather than going with our misplaced instincts here, we need to assess matters more calmly.

But here’s a better reply. It’s a new podcast series, called “Cryonics Underground”.

This is from the podcast description:

The Cryonics Underground podcast explores the fascinating and underappreciated world of Cryonics – the process of pausing your biological functions at the moment of legal death with the goal of reviving you in the future. Join us for in-depth discussions on the scientific, social, philosophical, technological, and political implications of this unique and extraordinary experiment. Featuring leaders in the Cryonics industry alongside futurists, philosophers, scientists, and many others. Get ready to travel on this remarkable journey with us. And remember, it could literally save your life!

Four episodes have been released already. I’ve listened to one and a half so far. It’s all been good listening.

The really shocking idea is that “it could literally save your life”. And the lives of people near and dear to you.

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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