The first item in this newsletter is a copy of a manifesto created by three distinguished futurists: Gerd Leonhard, David Houle, and Glen Hiemstra. They call the manifesto “Fork in the Road”, and are inviting people to read it, sign it, and prepare to take further action in support of the ideas it contains.
I found myself agreeing with every word in that manifesto, and was happy to add my name to the set of official signatories. I believe that many readers of this newsletter will feel the same way. If so, click on the “Sign the Manifesto” button you’ll find online.
At the same time, I believe that there’s a lot more than can be said about the “flourish” option of this fork. I’ll say more about that in the later items in this newsletter.
[What follows is a copy of text from the Fork In The Road website]
Humanity has entered a critical moment in its history. The coming decade is a time of great historical significance, and the decisions humanity collectively makes in the next 10 years may well determine whether our future is bright and prosperous, or whether it leads to misery and perhaps even our eventual demise as a species.
The good news is that while our challenges are urgent, we are not yet too late. The future is better than many tend to think, but only if we make the right decisions, here and now, and in this coming decade. We must keep asking ourselves this fundamental question: What kind of world do we want to leave our children and succeeding generations?
The great thinker, designer and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller (‘Bucky’) wrote several seminal books describing this pivotal moment in history, which he called the Fork in the Road. In “Utopia or Oblivion: Prospects for Humanity,” published in 1969 (!), Fuller stated,
“Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment… Humanity is in a final exam as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in the Universe.”
The Fork in the Road Project takes its name from this vision. The moment Fuller forecast is here: Humanity has entered the decisive decade and stands at perhaps the greatest, most monumental junction in the history of our species.
While many forces challenge the future, we recognize these 4 overarching issues
- Dealing with the Climate Crisis so that humans and all life can continue to flourish on Earth
- Designing New Economic and Political Frameworks, based on sustainable principles such as “People, Planet, Purpose & Prosperity”
- Managing Exponential Scientific and Technological Progress
- Governing Human Enhancement, Longevity, and Human Genome Editing so that progress continues while consequences are carefully considered
The initiators and initial signatories of this manifesto agree and hereby declare the urgent need to raise global awareness, to engage in wide education and debate, and to take decisive actions on these key issues in order to bring about fundamental shifts in all areas of human endeavour.
Historically, humans have been largely reactive to threats and crisis, as evidenced by Covid-19. This approach will clearly not work for tackling climate change or controlling technological super intelligence. We must start acting based on solid science, deep foresight, collective ethics and practical wisdom, and ask not what the future may bring but what future we want, and how we will create it. Rather than tacitly agreeing to our seemingly inevitable future, we must actively create our preferred future.
The Fork In The Road Project commits to dramatically raising awareness at this critical moment in history, and to influencing decision makers around the globe to make the necessary changes needed so that humanity will flourish going forward.
We commit to elevating the discourse and decision making of all to this vision of urgency, and the opportunity we have in this decade to ensure humanity’s future. We commit to telling stories about the urgency of this decade in assuring a long-term future for humanity and all life. We urge all who agree to step up, to sign and share this manifesto to redirect humanity toward a positive future.
[End of extract from the Fork In The Road website]
2.) What’s missing? Transhumanism
The potential flourishing that lies ahead for humanity, as envisioned as one option from the “fork in the road” just mentioned, may involve humans who are radically healthier than at present – healthier in body, mind, spirit, and society.
This won’t just be that all people around the world can reach the levels of health presently enjoyed by, say, the healthiest 1% of the population. It will be that all people around the world can attain what transhumanists call superlongevity, superintelligence, superhappiness, and superdemocracy.
(The link in the previous paragraph is to a video recording of the talk I gave at the recent Viridian Conference. If you can spare 17 minutes, you may enjoy watching it.)
Transhumanism is a subject that makes many people uncomfortable. Famously, the political philosopher Francis Fukuyama said that transhumanism is the world’s most dangerous idea.
But an academic who takes the time to analyse and then reject Fukuyama’s allegation is philosophy professor Stefan Sorgner, Chair of the Department of History and Humanities at John Cabot University in Rome. Stefan devotes an entire chapter of his recent book On Transhumanism to Fukuyama’s assertion.
Since Stefan is speaking to London Futurists next Saturday, 10th April, I’ve been reading his book to prepare a more informed discussion. It’s a lively, thoughtful book. As a brief excerpt, here are some definitional paragraphs:
The decisive feature of transhumanism is its advocacy for new technologies to increase the probability that transhumans or posthumans will emerge, so that evolution no longer depends on natural selection but can let human selection set its course. This development deeply calls into question whether humanity has reached its maturity.
As small children depend on their surroundings and only begin to become masters of their own lives as teenagers, so human evolution has depended on natural selection. Now humanity is slowly coming to its evolutionary teens, where we are ever readier to take control over our own evolutionary process. The analogy has limited scope; it only represents an attempt to approximate transhumanist philosophy.
The strong embrace of radical enhancement technologies is the defining feature of transhumanism and represents the movement’s most innovative aspect. Transhumanists especially support the enhancement of emotional, physical, and intellectual abilities, along with the extension of the healthspan during which the transhuman or posthuman can emerge.
Sorgner is careful to describe himself as a supporter of what he calls “a weak form of transhumanism”. More precisely, what he supports is a “weak Nietzschean transhumanism”. For myself, I am happy to be described as a supporter of “a strong form of transhumanism”.
The differences – and the implications – are part of what our discussion will cover on Saturday.
For more details, and to register to attend, click here.
3.) Becoming a Butterfly
Here’s a different view on existential risk, transhumanism, and human evolution. This time the writer is Tony Czarnecki, long-time friend of London Futurists:
Humanity must not only manage various existential risks, which it has itself created, but also manage its own evolution. The analogy of “becoming a butterfly” is not perfect, since caterpillars and butterflies are the same species. However, what is almost identical is the process of metamorphosis, which humans may have to go through, while evolving into a new species.
We may be the only species in the whole Universe which is consciously capable of minimizing the risk of its extinction and control its own evolution in a desired direction. We have already been doing it in some way over millennia by controlling our evolution in a cultural and social sphere, which has also strengthened our resilience to extinction. But today we may also be able to control our physical evolution into a new species. We will only be successful in that evolution if we do it in stages, using a process of transformation similar to a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
These words describe Tony’s new book, Becoming a Butterfly: Evolution or Extinction.
4.) US Transhumanist Party Panel on FDA Reform
By some measures, the most active transhumanist group in the world is the U.S. Transhumanist Party. Almost every Sunday, they organise an online “Virtual Enlightenment Salon”. This Sunday – today – they have chosen a topic of great urgency. It’s described as a “Special Panel on FDA Reform to discuss ideas about how to reduce or eliminate various process obstacles to the speedy review and approval of life-saving medications and vaccines”.
The seven panellists all have impressive credentials, which you can read about in the description text here. Whilst (ahem) they lack diversity from gender or ethnic points of view, they represent different sets of ideas. Two documents worth browsing in advance of this meeting are:
- A list of possible FDA reforms, by Dan Elton
- A summary of Daniel P. Carpenter’s “Reputation and Power” – a titanic book on the history of the FDA, by Willy Chertman
This event will be livestreamed here from 1pm to 3pm US-PT, that is, from 9pm to 11pm UK time.
If you miss the live event, the recording will be available at the same YouTube URL.
5.) Even more dangerous than biological infections
It’s abundantly clear that society has been nastily disrupted by Covid-19.
Futurists and others warned in advance about the perils of biological pandemics.
But what potentially lies ahead is a different kind of infection that could prove hundreds (or thousands) of times more disruptive.
This will involve, not biological infection, but cyber infection. Not an accidental spread, but something that is, at least partly, deliberate. Using tools that were initially developed for one purpose but which can be deployed for purposes that are altogether more destructive.
These are some of the messages in the book by Nicole Perlroth that I’m in the process of reading: This is How They Tell Me the World Ends.
I sincerely hope that, in 3-5 years times, we’re not in the situation of deploring our lack of preparedness for a cyber armageddon, wondering why we were putting all of our foresight skills into considering biological pandemics, climate change, conventional nuclear warfare, and the threat of mis-configured artificial general intelligence.
Yes, all of these threats are important, and they deserve lots of attention. But not at the cost of eliminating appropriate attention to the kinds of threats described in Perlroth’s book.
6.) Thinking about the end of the world
That thought brings us to the subject of the London Futurists talk on Saturday 17th April. It considers a range of questions:
- How useful is it to think about the end of the world, and the various ways in which humans can become extinct?
- How much effort should society put into that task?
- And what can be learned from the history of previous forecasts and warnings about the end of the world?
In this talk, existential risks researcher Phil Torres will draw from his forthcoming book Human Extinction: A History of Thinking About the End of the World to trace the origins and evolution of the idea of human extinction across past centuries.
Phil will argue that, only by understanding this history, can we fully appreciate our current existential predicament and, perhaps, anticipate what’s next. However lucky we were to have survived the Cold War, we may need to be far luckier to survive the twenty-first century.
For more details, and to register to attend, click here.
// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists