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Jun 9, 2019

Catalyst: A review of 7 predictions from 2013

Posted by in categories: economics, futurism, governance, government, human trajectories, internet, journalism, transparency

My own 2013 book Catalyst: A Techno-Liberation Thesis offered a prediction of the political future, viewing the near-term future as a time of crisis shaped by the nature of technology and the slowness of states to adjust to it. As this struggle becomes more acute, guarded new technologies will also get stolen and overflow across borders, going global and penetrating every country before they were intended to. States and large companies will react with bans and lies as they try to save their monopolies. Ultimately, over a longer time-frame, the nation-state system will collapse because of this pressure and an uncertain successor system of governance will emerge. It will look like “hell on earth” for a time, but it will stabilize in the end. We will become new political animals with new allegiances, shaped by the crisis, much as the Thirty Years’ War brought about our Westphalian nation-state model. Six years on from my book, are we any closer to what I predicted?

  1. The internet is “liberating” and “empowering” in a political sense (pp. 2, 3)
    • Uncertain outcome. Will current habits of censorship, de-platforming and other techno-enslavement as a result of controversies like “Russiagate” persist or are they temporary? If the economically or commercially favorable course is one of freedom and the removal of all filters and bans, will we see a reversal in the next few years? As younger politicians replace the old, will the internet become a sacred anarchy again?
  2. “Duplicitous policies” preserve the status of rich countries as exploiters and bullies (p. 11)
    • Yes, and it is increasingly obvious. Such policies became exposed and visible under the Trump administration, which openly declares its national interest to lie in the economic deprivation of others and sabotage of their tech. This has been criticized as harmful to free trade, and has been described as “de-globalization”. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin remarked that the tech war complicates the issue of global inequality (a rare observation seemingly asserted only in the Catalyst Thesis before recently).
  3. “Nano” and “bio” appliances will be in the household and will “shrink” production processes, abridging these processes so they are not corporate or state controlled and are in the “hands of the people” (p. 15)
    • This is uncertain. If there has been progress towards this outcome, it is not visible and has not had a major impact on world events. The possibility of it has started to cause concern for states and monopolistic schemes, but this is more in the ‘alarm’ stage rather than the ‘ban’ stage. More time may be needed, before this trend has a deeper impact on society.
  4. The nation-state system is being weakened by technology, media and globalization (p. 16), anti-state forces are “winning”
    • Well, not really. As of 2019, unless everything we just saw was a hiccup in the grand plan of history, the “ideological mask” of exploitation and division — the nation-state system — has reasserted itself. In almost every policy area in every country, the clock is running backward towards nationalism, censorship, borders, walls, and deep paranoia. Almost everyone on the political left and right is part of the problem, wittingly or unwittingly. Whether you support Trump or think he’s a Russian asset, or even care, your views and values are right out of the Nineteenth Century. We have seen the defeat of net neutrality, along with the passive acceptance of censorship on social media in the foolish assumption it will only be used on targets we dislike or who went too far. There seems to have been a lack of any major follow-up disclosures of government abuses on the scale of Edward Snowden’s, and whether it will ever happen again is questionable. With all these things considered, “losing” might be a better description of the situation for anti-government techno-politics as of 2019. If what is happening is not a minor disruption in the flow of history, it is consequential for the Catalyst Thesis and severely undermines its value. If the “soft” battle is lost as described above, and we revert to a society dominated entirely by strong states and corporations, the “hard” battle of techno-liberation may never start in our lifetimes.
  5. Historical transitions are “dark and filled with reaction” (p.23)
    • Yes. This appears to still be the case. The reaction may be what we are already facing, as all elites invested in the old system desperately try to suppress the global political will, motivated by fear of a new world order in which they are demoted.
  6. “Open-borders global political will” will form as a result of the internet, translation software, and the difficulty of statists in managing the overflow of popular technologies and their users (pp. 24, 25)
    • Yes. Almost every attempt by the media conglomerates and/or state to create a uniform public opinion about an election, a global issue, a scandal, etc. is failing because of alleged foreign “trolls”. They cannot be stopped because the internet’s circulatory system is not for one nation, but completely open to the world. That is the whole point of it, the reason it is the internet. The US 2016 election was the most visible example of the loss of control. Repressive and paranoid statements ensued. But, as of 2019, governments and media still gasp at the results they are getting.
  7. We will see new or experimental technologies shared illegally, the way information is leaked (p. 37)
    • Uncertain. Edward Snowden and Wikileaks do not seem to have captured as many imaginations as they should have, given how central they have been in the story of the internet. It is difficult to argue that the next generation will be even more rebellious, if they are to grow up in a much more monitored and conformist society. If the anarchy of the internet is going to be stopped and the smallest infractions punished as treason, this will damage the thinking of younger people who should have grown up noticing the contradictions in society. If, on the other hand, younger people are increasingly trained to be highly capable in the cyber-world (e.g. coding classes), we may see an even bigger generation of cypherpunk rebels accidentally raised by the state.

Catalyst is read in less than a day, and can be found on Kindle as well as in print. It was written to bring together a number of ideas and predictions I presented in articles at the IEET website, h+ Magazine, and other websites and includes full lists of sources. If you prefer to see more first, follow @CatalystThesis on Twitter or sign up to the email newsletter.

Mar 18, 2019

Dr. Philip Nitschke — Exit International — IdeaXme show — Ira Pastor

Posted by in categories: aging, biotech/medical, business, cryonics, disruptive technology, engineering, futurism, geopolitics, health, human trajectories

Mar 16, 2018

The Transhumanist Test of Faith

Posted by in categories: Elon Musk, ethics, human trajectories, moore's law, singularity, transhumanism

This piece originally appeared at the Institute for Emerging and Evolutionary Technologies website. It is dedicated to Leon Festinger.

Transhumanism is more often regarded as a faith by its detractors than its supporters. For my own part, I have long argued that the signature themes of transhumanism – especially the preoccupation with intellectual immortality and physical resurrection – bear the marks of Abrahamic theology. Indeed, without that theological backdrop, transhumanism’s zeal for mind uploading and cryonics looks simply bizarre. However, in this context, transhumanists can reasonably argue that they are scientifically delivering on those original theological promissory notes. Nevertheless, there remains the potentially pejorative sense of ‘faith’ lurking in what might be called transhumanism’s sense of eschatology – that is, its account of when, how and to whom those promissory notes will be delivered.

History shows that any humanly conceived idea is eventually realized in some form. Most of these ideas are realized fairly shortly after conception and in more or less the manner intended by their conceiver. However, many of the most important ideas – the ones that profoundly alter humanity’s self-understanding — are only realized much later and typically in a context quite alien to those who originally conceived them. Norbert Wiener famously observed that the possibility of an artificial intelligence was first raised in Talmudic discussions of the Biblical Golem. One of the goals of medieval alchemy was the creation of life from non-living materials. As for space travel and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, they became staples of speculative thought starting with the European Renaissance’s unprecedented confidence in the power of human ingenuity. But in all these cases, the ideas have taken 500‑2000 years to be realized – and many have yet to fully satisfy the ambitions of their conceivers.

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Dec 27, 2017

What’s Love got to do with Education?

Posted by in categories: complex systems, education, ethics, evolution, futurism, health, homo sapiens, human trajectories, innovation, philosophy, sustainability

[This article is drawn from Ch. 8: “Pedagogical Love: An Evolutionary Force” in Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures.]

“There is nothing more important in this world than radical love” as Paolo Freire told Joe Kincheloe over dinner.

- Joe Kincheloe. Reading, Writing and Cognition. 2006.

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Dec 6, 2017

Raising the Profile of Women Futurists

Posted by in categories: ethics, futurism, human trajectories, philosophy, sex, sustainability, transparency

An Interview with Jennifer Gidley

by Tracey Follows, Founder/Director of the Female Futures Bureau

Jennifer Gidley is a former President of the World Futures Studies Federation (2009−2017), a UNESCO and UN partner and global peak body for futures studies scholarship, she led a network of hundreds of world leading futures scholars and researchers from around the globe. An adjunct Professor at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, UTS in Sydney, futurist, author, psychologist and educator, Jennifer is a prolific author of dozens of academic papers, serves on several academic boards, and most recently authored Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures (Springer, 2016) & The Future: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2017).

Tracey: I spoke to Jennifer about her perspective on Female Futures.

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Nov 24, 2017

Futurism Interview with Steve Fuller on Elon Musk’s Attempt to Turn Humans into a Multi-Planetary Species

Posted by in categories: Elon Musk, futurism, habitats, human trajectories, space travel

Chelsea Gohd, a reporter for Futurism, recently interviewed Steve Fuller on Elon Musk’s plans to turn humans into a multi-planetary species. Her report, including the details of Musk’s plans can be found here. What follows is the full interview, only part of which was published in the article:

1. Do you think human beings are capable of becoming a multi-planetary species?

Yes, in two senses, one trivial and one not so trivial. The trivial sense is that there is no reason why we couldn’t survive in other planets – perhaps located in other star systems – that have roughly the same environmental conditions as the Earth. We just need to find them! The not so trivial sense is that we may be able to ‘terraform’ various currently uninhabitable planets to make them more-or-less habitable by humans. This would require enormous infrastructure investments that could be quite risky, at least at the start. But if there’s enough planning, capital and political will, it too could be done.

2. What do you think of Elon Musk’s recent statements insisting that becoming multi-planetary is “insurance of life as we know it”

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Nov 18, 2017

Transforming Education through Imagination — even for Tech Execs

Posted by in categories: architecture, education, environmental, human trajectories

Why do Silicon Valley technology executives send their children to an almost tech-free school? Several authors have explored this question, including New York University professor Adam Alter. In his book “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked” Alter explores the case of a San Francisco Steiner-Waldorf school where 75% of students are the children of Silicon Valley tech execs. How ironic.

In this piece I propose some additional reasons why imaginative education is becoming an approach of choice for parents wanting their children to become innovative, ecologically aware and even, as Whitehead suggests, to develop genius.

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Oct 12, 2017

Contrasting Human Futures: Technotopian or Human-Centred?*

Posted by in categories: complex systems, cyborgs, education, homo sapiens, human trajectories, philosophy, posthumanism, robotics/AI, singularity, Singularity University, transhumanism

[*This article was first published in the September 2017 issue of Paradigm Explorer: The Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network (Established 1973). The article was drawn from the author’s original work in her book: The Future: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2017), especially from Chapters 4 & 5.]

We are at a critical point today in research into human futures. Two divergent streams show up in the human futures conversations. Which direction we choose will also decide the fate of earth futures in the sense of Earth’s dual role as home for humans, and habitat for life. I choose to deliberately oversimplify here to make a vital point.

The two approaches I discuss here are informed by Oliver Markley and Willis Harman’s two contrasting future images of human development: ‘evolutionary transformational’ and ‘technological extrapolationist’ in Changing Images of Man (Markley & Harman, 1982). This has historical precedents in two types of utopian human futures distinguished by Fred Polak in The Image of the Future (Polak, 1973) and C. P. Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ (the humanities and the sciences) (Snow, 1959).

What I call ‘human-centred futures’ is humanitarian, philosophical, and ecological. It is based on a view of humans as kind, fair, consciously evolving, peaceful agents of change with a responsibility to maintain the ecological balance between humans, Earth, and cosmos. This is an active path of conscious evolution involving ongoing psychological, socio-cultural, aesthetic, and spiritual development, and a commitment to the betterment of earthly conditions for all humanity through education, cultural diversity, greater economic and resource parity, and respect for future generations.

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Sep 7, 2017

Should We be Cautious about Envisioning Dystopias?

Posted by in categories: entertainment, ethics, existential risks, futurism, human trajectories, media & arts, philosophy, transhumanism

How will our relationship to technology evolve in the future? Will we regard it as something apart from ourselves, part of ourselves, or as a new area of evolution? In this new video from the Galactic Public Archives, Futurist Gray Scott explains that we are a part of a technological cosmos. Do you agree with Scott that technology is built into the universe, waiting to be discovered?

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Sep 7, 2017

Unexpected Futurist: Ben Franklin envisions 2776 — and Cryonics

Posted by in categories: aging, cryonics, education, entertainment, futurism, health, human trajectories, innovation, media & arts, science, time travel

In Unexpected Futurist, we profile the lesser known futurist side of influential individuals. This episode’s unexpected time-traveler: Benjamin Franklin. Ben Franklin was an inventor, observer, electricity pioneer, and serial experimenter, so it’s not entirely surprising he looked to the future. But it turns out he was looking to the far, far future. In 1780 he wrote a letter to a friend in which he lamented that he was born during the dawn of science.

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