We live in an era of frequent change. These changes extend to London Futurists as well, and to the broader futurist community. When done well, these changes provide important fresh perspectives and new opportunities. You can read some examples below.
Alas, some changes aren’t happening quickly enough. That’s the subject of the first item in this newsletter.
1.) Going “beyond GDP” – this Saturday
When is more economic activity to be welcomed, and when should it be resisted?
For example, if an AI algorithm identifies a way to boost the quarterly profits of the corporation that owns it, is that a matter for celebration?
One argument is that more profits are what enable the owners of the corporation to do more good in the world, with charitable giving, investment in deprived areas, support for sports teams, and more investment to develop new products and services that will delight customers in new ways.
A counterargument is that profits are only a means to an end, and not an end in themselves. There are drawbacks when a society makes heroes out of business people who generate large profits. First, these profits might generate what economists call “negative externalities” – pollution, dwindling natural resources, disruption in the families of employees, depression among customers who buy products on the spur of a moment and later regret it. Second, a preoccupation with profits takes attention away from important projects that fare poorly on simple economic scales.
However, the reality is that one measure of economic activity has attained a position of great prominence in discussions of national wellbeing. That measure is GDP – Gross Domestic Product.
In some ways, GDP is a 20th century success story. It’s the measure which has come to define our concepts of progress, economic success, political virility, and generalised welfare or well-being.
However, even at its birth, the architects of GDP noted its particular unsuitability for these very purposes.
Over the decades, the shortcomings of GDP have been listed on numerous occasions. Many alternative measurements have been proposed. Yet these alternatives have had little practical impact. GDP continues in place, headlining news announcements, and strongly influencing national decisions.
In recent years, statisticians and economists around the world have been sharing ideas on how to change this dysfunctional state of affairs. One person with a key role in that global enquiry is Richard Heys, Deputy Chief Economist at the UK’s Office of National Statistics.
Richard is the guest at our London Futurists webinar this Saturday, 26th November. You can read more about Richard, and the webinar, via this link, where you’ll also be able to register to attend.
It’s a particularly important topic. I look forward to seeing many of you online at it!
2.) Fewer webinars, more podcast episodes
As some of you have noticed, I’ve organised fewer webinar events recently. Instead of them happening almost once a week (as used sometimes to be the case), they’ve slowed down to more like once a month.
Instead, I’ve put more of my time into creating podcast episodes, in partnership with show co-host Calum Chace. These episodes are now coming out every Wednesday morning. They’re being downloaded in ever higher quantities. Calum and I seem to be doing something right 🙂
A total of 14 episodes have already been released, and three more have been recorded. In the time since I included an item “Ten Not Out” in the previous London Futurists newsletter, four more have landed:
- Ep 14: Expanding humanity’s moral circle, with Jacy Reese Anthis (23 Nov 2022)
- Ep 13: Hacking the simulation, with Roman Yampolskiy (16 Nov 2022)
- Ep 12: Pioneering AI drug development, with Alex Zhavoronkov (9 Nov 2022)
- Ep 11: The Singularity Principles (2 Nov 2022)
Podcast episodes require a different sort of use of my time than live webinars. Both have their advantages, in terms of supporting the London Futurists mission of “serious analysis of radical scenarios for the next 40 years”. I’ll continue to do both!
3.) Migration: Vital Syllabus
The headlines on the front page of the Vital Syllabus website read as follows:
- Education fit for the new future
- The most important skills and principles
- Accessible, engaging, clear, focused, trustworthy
You may remember that the Vital Syllabus project started life as a resident on the London Futurists website. But as was envisioned from the beginning, the project materials have now migrated to their own dedicated home, on vitalsyllabus.org.
The migration has involved some rearrangements, some tidying, providing some additional explanatory text, and a general refresh.
It’s still comparatively early days for the project. My next task with it is to work through a lengthy backlog of ideas and suggestions for material to be added into various pages.
I hope you will share the aims of this project:
In our age of multiple pressures, dizzying opportunities, daunting risks, and accelerating disruption, what are the most important skills and principles to cherish and uphold?
The Vital Syllabus project aims to answer these questions. What you’ll find here are resources that can best assist students of all ages to acquire and deepen these skills, and to understand and embody the associated principles.
The website contains a longer description of what’s unique about this project, as compared to other initiatives around the world to reform education.
It also contains suggestions for how people can become involved in the project.
4.) Migration: Transhumanist Party UK
Another migration is now well under way: the transformation of the movement initially known as “Transhumanist Party UK” to a new name (“Future Surge”), a new website, and a new focus.
You can find out more about Future Surge at the website FutureSurge.org. That site includes (among other informaton):
- A statement of the Future Surge Worldview
- An FAQ
- Examples of media connected to Future Surge
- An affirmation of the importance of active transhumanism to Future Surge
- Support for the “Singularity Principles” – principles that will make a critical difference between society reaching a “positive singularity” and a “negative singularity”
- Opportunities to connect online to members and friends of Future Surge, where you can share your feedback and raise your own suggestions.
Many thanks to everyone who provided support, in any way, at any stage since the Party was founded!
You should find that the new form of the organisation contains lots of possibilities to advance the headlines stated at the top of its frontpage:
- Revitalising the social and political landscape
- Enabling a dramatically better future for all
- Active transhumanism
- Neither right nor left but up
- Technology in service of sustainable superabundance
5.) Migration: From Slack to Discord
One thing you may notice for both Future Surge and Vital Syllabus is that the online community discussion for these projects can take place, not on Slack, but on Discord.
One reason for this change in choice of tool is that Slack has altered its policy for free usage: posts made in entry-level Slack applications are all hidden after 90 ninety days. In contrast, Discord imposes no such time limitation.
Second, Discord seems to be the tool of choice for many people in younger generations. There is a thriving community of different Discord servers. I’m happy for London Futurists to connect into that community.
I’ve created two separate Discord servers, since the users may differ in the two cases. Here are invitation links to the two servers:
- To provide feedback and suggestions for Vital Syllabus
- To participant in the Future Surge activist community.
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!
6.) The Future Impact Summit
Look out for more news, in the months ahead, about partnerships (both formal and informal) between London Futurists and other organisations or initiatives.
One such partnership involved our support for the LSE Future Impact Summit that took place on 29-30 October. It was great to chat with several London Futurists regulars in the LSE premises.
The videos of the sessions at that event are now available online, on the LSEAAL YouTube Channel.
For example, here’s the recording of the session that involved Zoltan Istvan, Elise Bohan, and yours truly: “Homo Sapien 2.0 – Humanity Upgraded”. It’s 75 minutes of diverse answers (and occasional disagreements) to some humongous questions.
// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists