Anticipating better futures

Dear Futurists,

At times, anticipating the future can be emotionally distressing. There seem to be many paths to terrible future outcomes.

If we feel that the future is likely to be unpleasant, it’s no surprise if our horizons shrink and our energy deflates. We become lesser people as a result.

Transformational foresight therefore needs to draw attention, not only to the serious risks posed by landmines ahead, but also to credible roadmaps to better futures.

For some suggestions about positive routes forward, read on!

1.) Electricity too cheap to meter?

Later today, Wednesday 23rd March, the online conversation in the Future Surge discord has the theme “Future Energy: Electricity too cheap to meter?”

That conversation will start at 6:30pm UK time.

For more details of that event, and how to take part, click here.

These online conversations generally take place once a week – depending on the level of interest. There’s a thread in the #general channel in the Future Surge discord where you can suggest topics for future such conversations.

2.) Creating Benevolent Decentralized AGI

Episode 31 of the London Futurists Podcast, which was released yesterday, features Ben Goertzel, the founder and CEO of SingularityNET.

It was a wide-ranging discussion in which Ben raised lots of mind-stretching ideas. The overall theme can be described as “creating benevolent decentralized AGI”.

(AGI = Artificial General Intelligence.)

As you’ll hear, Ben isn’t afraid of being controversial, or to tell his hosts that they are “incredibly badly wrong”!

Since Ben is the person who has done more than anyone else to put the term “AGI” on the map, it’s well worth listening to what he has to say on the topic.

I agree with his assessment, near the end of the episode, that “What the fate of humanity depends on” is selecting the right approach to the creation of AGI.

Happily, the conversation goes beyond that simple headline to suggest what’s actually involved in the creation of benevolent AGI.

The conversation becomes a bit technical in a couple of places, but as per the London Futurists Podcast style, the two co-hosts – Calum Chace and yours truly – endeavour to maintain a focus on the practical implications of what’s being said.

You can find the episode wherever you usually listen to podcasts. Or on the London Futurists Podcast landing page.

3.) What the good future could look like

Going one week further back, the last-but-one episode of the London Futurists Podcast had the theme “What the good future could look like”, and featured one of the best regarded futurists on the international speaker circuit, Gerd Leonhard.

Gerd left his home country of Germany in 1982 to go to the USA to study music. While he was in the US, he set up one of the first internet-based music businesses, and then he parlayed that into his current speaking career. His talks and videos are known for their engaging use of technology and design – witness his film “The Good Future” – and he prides himself on his rigorous use of research and data to back up his claims and insights.

Here are three short paragraphs from what Gerd has to say:

As a Futurist and Keynote Speaker I talk to many people from all over the world and from all walks of life, and in the past few years I have noticed an increased proliferation of a rather negative view of the future – and not just because of the recent pandemic.

People often cite urgent climate change issues, rising populism, the explosion of fake news, the threats of automation and fear of technological unemployment, out-of-control artificial intelligence and vexing inequality trends as proof that the future is going to be bad, and that we are right to be afraid of it. And of course, Netflix, Hollywood et al are usually pointing us in the same direction: dystopia and doom is certain!

I beg to differ.

In the podcast episode, Gerd and Calum have some spirited good-natured disagreements. Having recently listened to the recording one more time, my view is that the conversation places some key questions firmly on the table. As to whether my own sympathies lie closer to Gerd’s or to Calum’s, I’ll encourage you to listen to the whole episode to find out!

4.) London Futurists in the Pub: inaugural meeting

Foresight isn’t about everyone reaching the same conclusion. It’s about the spirited good-natured disagreements that have the result of everyone seeing more clearly the landscape of risks and opportunities ahead.

That’s generally what happens in London Futurists Podcast episodes (see for example the previous two news items) and it is, hopefully, what will also happen at the inaugural “London Futurists in the Pub” event taking place next Wednesday (29th March).

My thanks go to London Futurists members Tony Czarnecki and Russell Burridge for taking the lead with organising this event during my current travels in the antipodes.

The idea of these “in the Pub” events is to enable informal connections and conversations between people interested in foresight. But to provide some structure, they’ll each have a starting theme. The theme for this inaugural event is “Will AGI arrive by 2030?”

For those of you who like using WhatsApp to help organise real-life gatherings, a WhatsApp group has been created for these “in the Pub” events. You can receive an invite to that group, either by RSVP’ing on the Meetup page for the event, or by sending Tony or Russell a message on Meetup.

To be clear, this is a real-world event, which will not be live-streamed or recorded.

There’s no charge to attend, but the pub management will expect you to purchase drinks and/or food from time to time!

5.) Navigating the Economic Singularity

Let me return to one point raised by Ben Goertzel in his discussion on the London Futurists Podcast: the most pressing question about the future of AI is “what is the transition phase?”

It’s one thing to look ahead to possible futures in which AGI is deployed in numerous industries, producing an abundance of high-quality products and services that have very low cost.

It’s another thing to consider what will happen in the interim phase in which numerous employees are being displaced by the workforce as AI becomes increasingly capable, but before the time in which AGI has created a sustainable superabundance.

Mike DiVerde of the OmniFuturists group puts it like this:

Millions of people may lose their jobs to AI and robotics. We are working to find a solution before this catastrophe hits.

In that quote, the “we” is the OmniFuturists group.

Mike is the featured guest in the most recent episode of the Humanity Unshacked podcast.

The conversation covered how the OmniFuturists group was formed, its activities so far, and its plans for the future.

As well as being the founder of OmniFuturists, Mike can be described as, literally, a rocket scientist:

Michael DiVerde is an aerospace structural design engineer who has worked at Boeing, SpaceX, McDonnell Douglas Space Systems, and Northrop Grumman. During nearly forty years, he has worked on nine new aerospace vehicles: two rockets, two spacecraft, two navy jets, two passenger jets, and one freighter.

He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

In the episode, he does a fine job of explaining the issue, and of suggesting a number of solutions.

If you enjoy that episode and want to exploring joining the OmniFuturists, click here for more details.

6.) Jules Morrison RIP

A deeply sad note to end on. Jules Morrison, who supported transhumanist and futurist initiatives in the UK for around twenty years, died unexpectedly and suddenly on 11th March from a cardiac arrest.

According to her brother, this was “most likely caused by complications from the DVT that she suffered several years ago”.

She was in her forties. Her life was FAR too short.

I remember Jules – who was previously known as Julian – as offering many thoughtful, kind words in our meetings. In recent years, I didn’t see her so often, but she regularly made comments online that were smart and constructive.

There’s a photograph online of the people attending the London Futurists event in Birkbeck College on 13th December 2008. (London Futurists at that time was known as “UKH+” and as “Extrobritannia”). Of all the events in the 15 years existence of London Futurists, this was the one with the lowest attendance numbers: just four. The photo shows the four of us: Jules, Nielo Gans, Adam Summerfield, and me – all looking rather serious. As I recall, although the numbers were small, it was a super discussion.

The shocking demise of both Jules Morrison and, earlier this year, Julian Snape, are a stark reminder that, despite the dramatic recent progress of capabilities of AI and biotech, the vision of the early transhumanists and extropians is still largely unfulfilled.

If we wish that vision to arrive sooner rather than later, we can’t rely simply on the activities of others. Each of us can, and should, find ways to make our own contribution to achieving a better future.

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

This entry was posted in Newsletter and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.