Debating priorities

Dear Futurists,

Please find below a few quick notes ahead of the two London Futurists events that are taking place this week.

1.) Our first Twitter Space experiment – Tues 18 Jan

Normally our online meetings are held on Zoom, with its familiar mix of video, audio, and text interaction.

However, there’s a case to experiment with the different format provided by a Twitter Space – a recent new piece of functionality within the Twitter application. I’m told it could help the London Futurists discussions to reach a wider audience.

Twitter Spaces are online audio discussions, without video feeds.

Anyone can listen live to the discussion, without registration. All you need to do is to click on the Twitter Spaces link in the event description.

If you want to add your voice into the discussion, you’ll need to connect via the Twitter app on a mobile device, and use the microphone on your phone.

You can find the Space, when the time comes, by pressing the new “four circles” button on the Twitter app screen.

Up to 13 people can have their microphones live at any moment. That’s the main host, two co-hosts, and up to ten other speakers. People listening on a mobile app can ask to be given one of the microphones. The hosts control which participants have microphone access at any one time.

The meeting will be recorded and will be available for replay on Twitter for another 30 days.

For more details of how Twitter Spaces work, see https://help.twitter.com/en/using-twitter/spaces

In line with the experimental nature of this event, you may hit some small snags along the way. For example, when you try to turn on your mic inside the app, the app may first direct you to a phone settings dialog in which you have to grant permission to the app to use the mic.

In my own trials with the system, I’ve also found that although you can use a headset to listen to the discussion, that headset is bypassed (on Android devices, at least) as soon as you switch on your mic: the audio from the event now comes out of the phone loudspeaker.

Anyway, nothing ventured, nothing learned… so I am pressing on with the experiment.

As for the topics we will be discussing, it’s a meta question. (Note: that’s a “meta” question but not a “Meta” question.) Namely: Which issues should futurists prioritise?

For example, which areas of life are most in need of creative new scenarios? What technologies will cause the biggest disruptions? Are new existential “landmines” lurking in the undergrowth? What are the brightest opportunities ahead, provided we pay them sufficient attention? And which principles and values should guide our prioritisation?

For more about the event, see the corresponding meetup page. Or just wing things, by clicking directly on the Twitter Space link.

If the timing works for you, please do drop into the Space. And if you like what you’re hearing, you can share the link in real-time, to encourage a wider audience.

2.) From new hearts to new brains – Sat 22 Jan

You probably saw the remarkable news story a few days ago: “Man gets genetically-modified pig heart in world-first transplant”.

The operation raises a pile of questions – some ethical, and some bioengineering.

It also raises our attention to even better transplants that might be possible in the future.

These are topics that our speaker on Saturday (22nd January) will be discussing: Professor Jean Hébert.

Over the last few days, I’ve been reading Prof Hébert’s book, Replacing Aging. It’s delightfully clear, but also intelligently provocative.

For that meeting, we’ll be back on Zoom. Click here for full details, and to register to attend.

3.) How Superintelligent AI Will Likely Transform Our Future

Let’s come back to the question: what should futurists prioritise?

One possible answer – see the previous news item – is radical approaches to improving healthcare.

Another possible answer – see this news item – is the set of implications of superintelligent AI.

Someone who has put a lot of effort over the years into anticipating and understanding these implications is Adam Ford, who chairs the Science, Technology, and the Future meetup.

Adam is also a prodigious creator of videos – as you can see from the website scifuture.org.

This Thursday, Adam will be giving a wide-ranging talk on “How Superintelligent AI will likely transform our future”. Here’s part of the description of the event:

Is artificial superintelligence (ASI) imminent? Adam Ford will assess the evidence and ethical importance of artificial intelligence; its opportunities and risks. Drawing on the history of progress in AI and how today it surpasses peak human capability in some domains, he will present forecasts about further progress…

Adam will explore the notion of intelligence and what aspects are missing in AI now and how ‘understanding’ arises in biological intelligence and how it could be realised in AI over the next decade or two. He will conclude with takes on ideal AI outcomes and some recommendations for increasing the likelihood of achieving them.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Adam is based in Melbourne, Australia, and the timeslot for the event is chosen for easy participation by people in that part of the world. It works out to 7:30am-9:30am in the UK. Which is early… but not too early.

Click here for more information and to register to participate.

4.) The Overton Window – Humanity Unshackled episode 7

Yet another possible answer to the question, what should futurists prioritise, is the study of how public opinion is formed and changed.

After all, there’s little point in us futurists perceiving a profound truth about future risks or opportunities, if we subsequently fail to persuade others to share our perspective.

We need ways to counter the tendency “don’t look up”.

One angle on the formation and transformation of public opinion is given by the concept of “the Overton Window”.

I won’t say anything more about it here, except to provide a pointer to the latest Humanity Unshackled podcast episode, where that was the main topic under discussion. I suggest you give it a listen.

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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