A life far too short

Dear Futurists,

1.) Julian Snape RIP

Many members of this community will remember Julian Snape, one of the pioneers of transhumanism and technoprogressive futurism in the UK.

Sadly, Julian died on Monday, following a long battle with cancer. I’m told that he passed without pain, at home with close friends and family.

I first met Julian in 2005, when he described himself as “one of the six men in a pub” who would gather in Penderell’s Oak in Holborn for meetings variously known as “Extrobritannia” or “The UK Transhumanist Association”.

To be clear, it wasn’t always the same six men, and several women attended from time to time, but it was a pretty small group in those days.

The group had been formed as a result of online discussions on mailing lists such as Extropy and ImmInst, where Julian had the distinctive username transtigger.

Here’s the earliest archive I can find of the UK Transhumanist Association website, from October 2004. It lists Julian as one of four named “speakers / advisors”, with his speciality being “Nanotechnology”.

The group evolved over the years, adopting the name London Futurists. Julian spoke at events on a number of occasions, and, even when not speaking, frequently attended as an audience member. He was a warm, kindly, livewire of connectivity in the post-event social gatherings in nearby pubs.

As well as being on the founding team in 2004 of the UK Transhumanist Association, Julian was one of the original “NEC” (National Executive Committee) of a political party formed in 2015, initially called “Transhumanist Party UK” (more recently renamed as “Future Surge“). Julian took the role of Party Leader for a while, until illness led him to cut back on his commitments.

Julian was an enthusiastic advocate of 3D printing, of the use of robotics in numerous areas of human society (including agriculture), and of the need to radically improve education. Later, he put more focus – as can be seen in the picture above – on the notion of UBI, which he emphasised as being “Unconditional Basic Income”. He argued that the need for a new social contract, based on UBI, was so vital, that he even contemplated forming a brand new political party dedicated to that single issue.

To remember Julian, here’s a video of a discussion between the two of us, filmed in August 2019, which starts with Julian reminiscing about the early days of UK transhumanism. The video goes on to cover Julian’s broader interests in “smart rural and coastal areas” and various initiatives in the Downham Market area of Norfolk where he lived.

He’ll be sorely missed.

2.) The prospects for UBI

The universe sometimes works in mysterious ways. In the same week as the passing of one of the strongest London Futurists advocates for UBI, the topic for our scheduled event (happening this Saturday, 21st January) is, you guessed it, UBI.

Our speaker at this event, Scott Santens, has been researching and advocating for the concept of unconditional universal basic income (or UBI) since 2013.

Scott will be bringing us all up to date with recent developments in the UBI world:

  • News from trials undertaken or planned
  • New ideas on the affordability of UBI
  • What he has been hearing from his many connections among political groups worldwide.

In preparation for this event, I recently read Scott’s book Let There Be Money. More precisely, I listened to Scott reading it as the episode of a podcast.

That book provides a thoughtful analysis on options for federal governments making cash available, somewhat like quantitative easing, without triggering the runaway inflation that is often suggested would arise if that kind of cash creation became a regular practice.

The book also offers a different way of thinking about taxation.

In other words, that book isn’t simply a repeat of many arguments about UBI that have been circulating for ten years or more (and which have featured in previous London Futurists events, e.g. in 2015, 2018, and 2020). You’ll likely find that it raises new possibilities in your mind.

Also in preparation for this event, I’ve been re-listening to the 2020 book by Oxford Economist Daniel Susskind, A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond. In my view, that book makes a particularly compelling argument that AI and automation is, in due course, going to cause widespread technological unemployment and technological underemployment (and will also exacerbate inequalities in income and wealth) – and that this challenge cannot be solved simply by enabling people to “reskill quickly”. In other words, it’s a powerful argument that a new social contract is needed.

The extent to which UBI should have a role in that new social contract is something you’ll need to decide for yourself.

I can’t be sure, but I expect that if Julian Snape could express his views at this point, he would urge all of us to attend Saturday’s event. The details are here.

On this occasion, the usual £3 Zoom registration fee is being waived. It’s free to register and free to attend.

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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