Anticipating a decade of increased dissonance

Dear Futurists,

Please find below some news about events or projects that may interest you.

1.) The 2020s: A decade of cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is when there’s evidence that life is different from what we were expecting, or were hoping for, and we prefer not to see that evidence, but that evidence still intrudes upon our mind. The dissonance often changes our behaviour in ways that lie outside our conscious perception.

Cognitive dissonance can involve evidence that our favourite political leaders are falling short of how we’d prefer them to behave. Or evidence that our favourite ideologies or preferred patterns of thinking are inadequate to the tasks posed in the real world. Or evidence that various technologies or products have capabilities different from what we previously supposed – being either less capable, or more capable, than what we wanted to believe.

The Covid pandemic has brought lots of dissonance. Whichever viewpoints we have each started with, evidence has emerged to challenge our assumptions. Political leaders who appeared to be Covid heroes one day seemed to turn into Covid villains the next day – and vice versa. Our instincts that we should champion particular choices between different priorities – health, economy, sovereignty, social justice, personal liberties, etc – hit problems because of the deep connections between these different priorities.

OK, life is complicated. It’s no surprise that simplistic thinking can cause more harm than good. But the point is that life is likely to become a lot more complicated. Our experiences with the pandemic are just the start. The levels of cognitive dissonance we’ve experienced over the last 12-18 months are but a foretaste of considerably greater levels ahead.

That’s one of the themes of global futurist David Houle, which he advances in his recent book The 2020s: A decade of cognitive dissonance. David will be speaking to London Futurists about these themes later today, Saturday 15th May:

  • Why the pace of change in the 2020s is likely to be unprecedented
  • Why there’s unlikely to be any “new normal” – why abnormality will actually be the norm
  • Why there’s likely to be a collapse in the power and influence of “legacy thinking”
  • What kind of mental turmoil this extreme pace of change is likely to cause
  • How we can best manage that mental turmoil
  • How we can learn to see things more clearly, rather than being blinkered by our previous expectations
  • How we can learn to adapt, rather than clinging onto prior notions and customs.

If these topics interest you, you can click here to find out more about the event and to register to participate live.

2.) Making our Zoom webinars more interactive

As a reminder, you can watch London Futurists events, for free, on our YouTube channel.

You can also choose to join the live Q&A and text chat conversation in the Zoom webinar, for which there’s a small entry fee (UKP £2.50) payable on registration. Depending on the flow of discussion, I may ask one or more of the Zoom audience members to temporarily join the video panel, to make some points direct to camera.

You can see examples of that in the final portions of our previous event “How to talk about climate change in a way that makes a difference” which featured Rebecca Huntley. Here’s the video recording:

I offer thanks to Todd Smith, Dave Pendle, and Terry Raby for joining that discussion in this way. Thanks are due, also, to everyone else in the Zoom webinar audience who enhanced the overall conversation with their questions, chat comments, and/or providing thumbs-up votes for the questions raised by fellow audience members.

For a different kind of interactivity, see also this recording of our last-but-one event, “The Future Starts Now”, featuring four panellists: Kate O’Neill, Theo Priestley, Bronwyn Williams, and Craig Wing:

3.) Genius Makers, by Cade Metz

One of the biggest drivers of change during the 2020s will be progress in Artificial Intelligence. I’ve recently read the new book by New York Times journalist Cade Metz, “The Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought A.I. to Google, Facebook, and the World”, and strongly recommend it.

This is from the publisher’s description of the book:

Long dismissed as a technology of the distant future, artificial intelligence was a project once consigned to the fringes of the scientific community. Then two researchers changed everything. One was a 64-year-old computer science professor with a back problem so severe he could not drive or fly. The other was a 36-year-old neuroscientist and chess prodigy. Though they took very different paths, together they helped catapult AI to the forefront of our daily lives and, in the process, created a business worth billions.

This is the story of that technological revolution and of the arms race it has sparked among companies that range from Google to Facebook to OpenAI. It’s the story of growing international rivalry to achieve major new breakthroughs. And it’s a story that shows both the inventive best of humankind and its darker side, as advances have been counter-balanced by issues of prejudice, bias and the invasion of privacy.

New York Times Silicon Valley journalist Cade Metz draws on unparalleled access to all the major players to create an extraordinarily vivid account of a revolution over five decades in the making. And he poses the questions that will dominate the next half-century: where will AI take us next? Are systems with truly human intelligence on the horizon? And, if so, where does that leave us?

Here’s what I particularly like about this book:

  • It highlights the human aspects of working at the leading edge of AI research
  • It provides ample evidence that recent breakthroughs in deep neural networks and reinforcement learning will have immensely wide implications
  • It shows that many of these breakthroughs took decades to bring to fruition, and they experienced numerous setbacks along the way
  • It provides a voice to critics of artificial intelligence, but then shows how these critics have often been proven wrong by the subsequent passage of time
  • It fills in many of the details of episodes in the development of AI that I already knew quite well, but the extra information provided a rounder explanation
  • It takes the subject of AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) seriously.

The story covered in Metz’s book is, of course, by no means finished. Even in the few months that have passed since his manuscript was finalised, there have been additional key developments. I hope that Metz continues to issue new chapters (by one means or another) that keep bringing his narrative up to date.

4.) A World Without Work, by Daniel Susskind

What impact will AI have on work? Will AI create more jobs than it eliminates?

Perhaps the best book on that contentious question is by Oxford economist Daniel Susskind, “A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and How We Should Respond”. I found it to be particularly clear, and strongly recommend it as well.

This is from the publisher’s description:

New technologies have always provoked panic about workers being replaced by machines. In the past, such fears have been misplaced, and many economists maintain that they remain so today. Yet in A World Without Work, Daniel Susskind shows why this time really is different. Advances in artificial intelligence mean that all kinds of tasks – from diagnosing illnesses to drafting contracts – are increasingly within the reach of computers. The threat of technological unemployment is real.

So how can we all thrive in a world with less work? Susskind reminds us that technological progress could bring about unprecedented prosperity, solving one of mankind’s oldest problems: how to ensure everyone has enough to live on. The challenge will be to distribute this prosperity fairly, constrain the power of Big Tech, and provide meaning in a world where work is no longer the centre of our lives. In this visionary, pragmatic and ultimately hopeful book, Susskind shows us the way.

As you read the earlier chapters of Susskind’s book, I’m sure various questions will come to your mind. But you will very likely find compelling answers to these questions in the material in the later chapters of this comprehensive piece of thinking.

5.) Show your support for science-intensive healthy longevity technologies

What priorities should European politicians pursue in order to enable a healthier future for all Europeans?

That’s a question which is being explored in the online site “Conference on the future of Europe”. The tagline for that site is “The future is in your hands”. The site describes itself as follows:

This platform is the hub of the Conference on the Future of Europe. This is your opportunity to speak up, to say what kind of Europe you want to live in, to help shape our future

The site encourages people to post ideas in a number of different categories, including health.

Once ideas are posted, other viewers of the site can cast votes to indicate their support of various ideas they see.

One of the ideas in the health category has caught my eye. It has been submitted by Attila Csordas on behalf of the European Longevity Initiative.

Here’s an extract from that proposal:

I represent the European Longevity Initiative, an advocacy group with members from 13+ EU countries, scientists, entrepreneurs, professionals from relevant categories.

We propose effective legal, budgetary, regulatory and institutional commitments to enable science intensive healthy longevity research and technologies, large scale aging focused geroprotective clinical trials and equitable access to these technologies to increase healthy life expectancy in the European Union.

Specifically, the proposal champions four commitments:

  1. Legal commitment: Acknowledge the malleability of biological aging and the translational geroscience paradigm as the ultimate enabler of age-neutral human health in the EU’s legislative DNA. This specific EU legislation then can be used to justify the other 3 derivative commitments throughout.
  2. Budgetary commitment: A sizeable proportion of the EU R&D budget dedicated specifically for developing science intensive healthy longevity technologies.
  3. Regulatory commitment: Green light for Europe-wide aging focused geroprotective clinical trials by specific, enabling EMA regulation.
  4. Institutional commitment: Set up a coordinated European Institute for Healthy Longevity research in EU member states, backed by the previous three commitments.

You can read more details in a white paper (PDF) attached to the proposal.

If you want to indicate your support for these ideas, you can follow the steps indicated on the site. Note that the process will ask you to answer a small set of questions, including what nationality you identify with (you can give up to three choices).

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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