Preparing for the surge

Dear Futurists,

1.) Four meetups in the calendar

After a period with only a few meetups taking place, we can now look forward to a mini-surge of activity over the next few weeks. The London Futurists calendar currently lists four meetups taking place in the rest of September and the beginning of October:

Unprecedented Startup Losses and Small Markets for New Technologies: Why? – 1pm, Sat 24th Sept

  • Speaker: Jeffrey Funk
  • Today’s Unicorn Startups have incurred unprecedented losses, far higher than in previous generations. In this presentation, independent consultant Jeffrey Funk documents these losses and the associated falling share prices and small market capitalizations. He speculates on the reasons for these problems, such as a lack of breakthrough technologies. He reviews the small markets for new technologies and the fact that previous decades gave us bigger markets for new technologies such as personal computers (end of 1980s), e-commerce, enterprise software, mobile phones (end of 1990s), smart phones, cloud computing, and Internet advertising (end of 2000s).
  • Finally, he speculates on the reasons why these breakthrough technologies have not yet emerged. These reasons include changes in the way basic and applied research is carried out. In turn, these considerations have important implications for the future of innovation.

Economic Possibilities for our Children – 4pm, Sat 24th Sept

  • Speaker: Hugh Shields
  • In 1930, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes published “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”. In it, Keynes anticipated an age of abundance for society driven by automation. But he also worried that society might struggle with its purpose and objective.
  • In this event, noted author Hugh Shields reflects on Keynes’ wisdom and suggests some possible remedies for society. What are the economic possibilities for our children?

Imagining 2084: A Utopian Perspective – 4pm, Sat 1st Oct

  • Speaker: Michael Rogers
  • What might the world look like if we did everything right for the next 60 years?
  • The inspirational new book by Michael Rogers, Email from the Future: Notes from 2084, covers topics ranging from healthcare, education, and advanced AI, to space travel, marriage, mind preservation, gaming, and religion – as well as the next phase of human evolution.
  • Whilst optimistic about what humanity can achieve, the book is also refreshingly realistic about the challenges facing us in the decades ahead.
  • Michael says that writing this book led him to ponder the legacy of Utopian literature, and its potential relevance to contemporary futurism.
  • Michael will be joining London Futurists to discuss themes arising from his book and his wider research.

A Carbon Currency based on Carbon Allowances – 4pm, Sat 8th Oct

  • Speakers Adam Hardy and Prof Steve Keen
  • The price of energy, the exploding cost of living, and unexpectedly severe climate impacts have people and politicians across the UK and Europe discussing the possibility of energy rationing. Bear in mind the skewed distribution of income in the UK: whilst a Briton with the mean salary could cope with a sixfold increase in energy costs, the median Briton could not. The threat of resulting social breakdown may lead the government to adopt radical measures. What alternatives should be considered?
  • In this London Futurists webinar, Adam Hardy and Steve Keen will present a proposal for a dual price system where carbon is allocated equally to citizens in a framework that replaces carbon taxes and emissions trading systems. Those that consume more carbon than the average must buy it off those who consume less, using a market mechanism.
  • This proposal shares the burden of the huge rise in energy costs proportionately compared to income, and puts strong pressure on individuals and corporations to reduce carbon consumption, by both changes in behaviour and innovation.

If any of these events catch your attention, click on the links above for more information.

2.) Preparing for Future Surge

Regular readers of this newsletter will know that I am a fan of the philosophy of transhumanism – and also a fan of using the word “transhumanism” (“the ‘T’-word”) rather than shying away from it.

I even wrote a large book (642 pages, yikes) that made the case, not only for transhumanism, but also for the word “transhumanism”.

And yet, and yet. Going up to a relative stranger and asking “will you vote for the Transhumanist Party in forthcoming elections?” still sticks in my throat.

Accordingly, as part of a relaunch of the Transhumanist UK party/movement, there’s also a name change. The new name is “Future Surge”.

“Transhumanism” is still there on the website – as a guiding philosophy, and as a source of inspiration. But it’s no longer the very first word in a conversation.

Well, names are important, but what’s even more important is the substance. To find out about the intended substance of Future Surge, please take a look at the new website, futuresurge.org.

Another way to find out what the new movement is doing (and hoping for) is via the news channel on that site. For example, see “Get in on the ground floor”.

To get off to an especially quick start with Future Surge, you can join the voice call that will be taking place on the Voice General channel of our Discord server, at 8pm UK time today (Wednesday).

There’s an invite to the Discord server on the “Connect” page of the Future Surge website.

Note: if you’ve not used Discord before, you’ll probably soon become comfortable in using it. But you may have to “prove that you are human” before the Discord server lets you join!

3.) How quickly is AI surging forward?

Something else that is taking a lot of people by surprise – even people who watch the field closely – is the growth in capability of AI.

For example, blogger Scott Alexander posted an article two days ago, “I Won My Three Year AI Progress Bet In Three Months”. It describes a problem discussed several months previously, in which AI art generators often made what seems to be elementary mistakes of logic. Some critics said this was no surprise: the AI model involved had no hope of manifesting the required elements of intelligence. After all, “it’s just mindless statistics”. Scott disagreed: he thought that ongoing improvements in the field would produce AI art generators that would no longer make that kind of mistake. How long would it take before these improvements were in place? Scott thought that three years was a fair guess.

But the punchline of the article, which you should read for yourself, is that this progress has already been achieved. Instead of taking three years, it has taken only three months.

To be clear, not everyone is convinced. And a debate rages on. But the recent improvements in the ability of AI art generators are surely remarkable.

Where is this taking us?

Earlier this year, a collaboration between Fast FutureLondon Futurists, and the UK Node of the Millennium Project created an online survey on the rise and implications of AGI. The material supplied by respondents was fascinating. Finalisation of the report from this survey has taken longer than planned due to extended Covid related absences and the knock-on effects on other projects. So, in view of the news articles about changes in AI capability, it seems sensible to re-open the survey to capture any changes in people’s thinking.

The survey explores how AGI might evolve and impact society, the economy, business, and government. You can take the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/LFAGI.

This extension to the survey closes at midnight PST on September 22nd.

If the system doesn’t let you update your previous answers, then please make a new submission to add any additional comments or responses. We will look out for any such submissions and use your latest answers to the multiple choice questions and include your latest comments.

It takes 7-10 minutes to complete the multiple choice questions, a little more if you want to add comments. Everyone who completes the survey will get a copy of the results and a free electronic copy of a book of your choice from the Fast Future bookstore.

4.) London Futurists Podcast downloads

One final growth trajectory to mention is that of the downloads of London Futurists podcast episodes.

Three episodes are already available, and more are coming soon. People who have listened to the first few episodes have been very complimentary in their comments about it.

You can download episodes from wherever you usually listen to podcasts. So far, the majority of our downloads have been from the following sites:

By the way, if you do like an episode, by all means give us a like, a subscribe, a thumbs up, a mini-review, or whatever else is appropriate in your neck of social-media-land!

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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