Anticipating combinations

Dear Futurists,

The future isn’t the outcome of a single trend, working in isolation. The biggest changes often occur when multiple trends combine, altering each other in the process.

Consider how the spread of the COVID pandemic has led to greater pressure to accelerate solutions allowing people to live, work, and play while remote from each other. Consider also how, throughout history, pandemics have often led to governments having a larger role in directing society. Consider how breakthroughs in platform technologies – like steam power, electricity, computing, and AI – often result in breakthroughs in other areas of life – like transport, manufacturing, commerce, and healthcare. Consider, finally, how human expectations often initially slow down the adoption of new products and services, before flipping over, and causing a disruptive speed-up of that adoption.

So when we anticipate future scenarios – in order to decide what changes we should be making in the present – we need to think ahead about the ways in which different trends can be transformed, retarded, or augmented, by their mutual interaction.

That’s a key theme of our event this Saturday, 27th February. And it’s a key theme of several other items I mention below in the remainder of this newsletter.

1.) The Post-COVID Social Contract Trilemma

In any time of prolonged crisis, our responses depend on “the ideas that are lying around”. But what if the various ideas that are growing in popularity, for adoption in a post-COVID social contract, are in profound tension with each other?

This London Futurists webinar features Bronwyn Williams, economist, futurist, and business trend analyst. Bronwyn will be drawing attention to a growing “trilemma” of choice, highlighting potential contradictions between, for example:

  • BTC (Bitcoin), along with other cryptocurrencies
  • MMT (Modern Monetary Theory), with its focus on a “Job Guarantee”
  • UBI (Universal Basic Income), with payments independent of employment status.

Other “ideas lying around” that will appear in this talk include the Doughnut Economy, Citizens’ Assemblies, and FALC (Fully Automated Luxury Communism/Capitalism).

As Bronwyn will demonstrate, thinking through the potential interactions of these different ideas can allow us to identify creative new possibilities ahead of time.

To sign up for this webinar while Zoom slots are still available, and for more information about the speaker and the format, click here.

2.) Bitcoin compared to the drug trade(!)

(This image contains elements from work by jorono on Pixabay, used with thanks.)

Speaking of Bitcoin, I was struck by a set of remarks on Twitter a couple of days ago by Jack Danger, a software engineering VP. It’s a provocative line of thinking, that deserves to be shared in full:

Because not everyone knows: If Bitcoin’s price ever reaches $1m it will output more carbon than the entire US and consume 2x the entire electrical production of the US.

And it gets worse.

As the price goes up it’s worth it for miners to spend more to mine a coin. Even if it costs them enormously in energy costs.

Will they? Guaranteed.

Because this has the exact same financial incentive as the drug trade.

As long as someone who wants to better their finances can make a fortune destroying a common good at least one psychopath will do that.

And Bitcoin is (largely) anonymous so they could be the PRC or North Korea but they could just as likely be warlords who invade and capture nuke plants.

There won’t be a way to stop these miners because the financial incentives are all backward and built deliberately so.

Bitcoin is propped up by people who don’t trust community decisions. They’ve inoculated BTC against human society.

Which means they’ve ensured that – as climate change continuously increases in criticality – we will be similarly increasingly hamstrung from using energy wisely

What can we do? Treat Bitcoin like we (should) treat the heroin trade. Folks want it, suppliers are getting foolishly rich off it, and it does absolutely no good.

Stop adding it as a checkout option like it’s not a planet-killer.

And for godsakes stop letting anyone refer to the future promise of blockchain as a beard for BTC.

If there were any other use besides burning Earth to a crisp we would have found it by now.

You can probably imagine some of the responses to that thread. Some Bitcoin fans pointed out that the apparent waste of energy in mining new cryptocurrency is dwarfed by lots of other energy apparently being wasted by self-serving activities in the mainstream financial industry. But two wrongs don’t make a right.

3.) New ideas in finance?

One area of the financial world where questions can fairly be raised is the apparently privileged situation of the bond trading market, as an unhealthy side effect of the way that governments currently create money. That, along with proposed alternatives, was something covered in the most recent London Futurists event, where Radix Fellow Geoff Crocker gave a presentation on “Sovereign Money Creation and Basic Income”.

The recording of the event is available:

If you start watching, you’ll find it contains lots of thought-provoking ideas.

If you’d like to follow up on some of the topics covered, check out a Radix webinar being chaired by Geoff this Wednesday:

Here’s an excerpt from the description:

How to handle the sovereign debt accumulated during the Covid-19 pandemic is both an economic and a political issue. In this event we will examine both the politics and the economics of the growing sovereign debt:

*) Are debt levels a significant problem for a country with a sovereign reserve currency and its own central bank?

*) Are maintaining government support and investing for growth greater priorities than worrying about debt levels?

*) Should inflation tick up, does fiscal policy offer a better response than increased interest rates?

*) What are the politics of bringing down debt through higher taxes or lower government spending vs investing for growth to meet the promised leveling up agenda?

The speakers will be Prof John Kay, Prof Paola Subacchi, and Prof Tim Bale.

For more details of the speakers, and to sign up to attend, click here.

4.) Time for Proportional Representation?

It was only a few weeks ago that I became aware of the work done by Radix, which describes itself as “Think Tank for the Radical Centre”.

I confess I’m impressed. In addition to the event of theirs I’ve just mentioned, on the economics and politics of COVID debt, they have two other events happening this week.

For example the one this Thursday evening is “Would proportional representation fix a broken system and generate a different type of politics?”

Again, here’s an extract from the online meeting description:

In 2011 a National Referendum was held on whether the UK should adopt the Alternative Vote system. It was decisively rejected by 67% of the 42% who participated. But given the political division of the last few years, should we start the debate about how proportional representation could fix vital challenges within our society and generate a different type of politics? 

The graph above shows how the current UK parliament would look after the 2019 election if proportional representation rather than first past the post voting system had been used.

For details of the speakers, and to register to attend, click here.

(For a possible practical breakthrough that proportional representation might bring, consider the next item.)

5.) Party politics to accelerate research into health?

In the UK, the US, or any other country in which elections use a first-past-the-post voting system, there is little chance for any single issue party to make headway.

But things are different in Germany, where the Party for Health Research (German name Partei für Gesundheitsforschung) has the benefit of proportional representation.

This applies at the state level as well as at the national level. The pictures above (source on Facebook) show party campaign posters in Stuttgart for the Partei für Gesundheitsforschung alongside those of other political parties, for the forthcoming Baden-Württemberg state elections.

Here’s a comment from Party founder Felix Werth:

Election posters in Stuttgart with our advisory board member Aubrey de Grey for the state election in Baden-Württemberg on march 14th 2021. The Partei für Gesundheitsforschung advocates that the state should invest about 5 billion Euro per year additionally into biomedical research to hasten the development of effective medicine against the diseases of old age.

Here is our election program.

Please also consider donating money to the party, so that we can participate in more future elections. To participate in this years federal election in 12 states we would need e.g. at least about 50.000 Euro and unfortunately the party has almost no money at the moment. Election campaigns are a very good way to do advocacy for our cause and we can reach a lot of people this way, that we otherwise wouldn’t reach. Donating details: https://parteifuergesundheitsforschung.de/donate

Any help is welcome.

6.) Combining ideas about the mind

Since my teenage days in the 1970s, I’ve probably read several hundreds of books about the mind. I remember being made to think hard by Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter, and by many of the writings of Daniel Dennett, going back to his Brainstorms. I particularly enjoyed The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. More recently, I found much to ponder in Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark and Artificial You: AI and the Future of Your Mind by Susan Schneider.

It’s possible, however, that I’ve found a new book which will become my favourite reference on the question of mind and consciousness. It’s by Mark Solms, and is The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness.

I use the word “possible” because I’m only half way through listening to it. I’m not yet sure what I’ll think of the material in the later chapters. But the material in the earlier chapters has been astounding. It draws together ideas from many disciplines to reach a set of conclusions that are already causing me to look at the mind in new ways.

One introduction to these ideas is via a presentation Mark gave to the Royal Institute a few weeks ago:

Having watched that talk live, I thought I would find a lot of material in Mark’s book to be familiar to me. However, I discovered that there are many strands of ideas in that book. So whilst, yes, some had been covered in the Royal Institution talk, much else was new to me.

Mark will be covering a different part of his overall set of ideas when he speaks to London Futurists on the 6th of March: “Towards an artificial consciousness?” I’m anticipating an absorbing discussion, followed, as standard on our webinars, by an extended Q&A.

For more information, and to register to attend, click here.

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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