Category Archives: Uncategorized

The New Dark Age, update

with Bronwyn Williams

The New Dark Age is a topic I’ve lectured on often since the late 90s, when I first realized the pseudo-religious nature of many of the ‘isms’ people many subscribe to. I found it rather amusing that they often bragged how they had outgrown religion, but were actually just substituting a new one for old and lacked the personal insight to recognise it. Since 2000, many others have noticed the same and it is now common to note the religious equivalence of many areas of political correctness. My early work in the field isn’t available online, but my first wordpress blog on it in 2011 bemoaned the return of stone age cultures:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/stone-age-culture-returning-in-the-21st-century/

My most recent blog on the topic, including a slide set to make it easier to read is at:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/utopia-scorned-the-21st-century-dark-age/

Even that was written a few years ago, before people started using that ridiculous term ‘woke’, so it is due an update given all that has happened recently. To that end, I have solicited the assistance of Bronwyn Williams, an insightful up-and-coming futurist from South Africa.

Perhaps the most conspicuous change since 2017 is that science has become even more politicised, to such an extent that it has lost a great deal of the trust it had. Without good science, we can’t progress reliably. If scientific results are only accepted and published when they align with the favoured political narrative, we might as well not bother doing the research, we could just jump straight to the conclusion without doing any – it will still be treated the same by the various branches of media, still get the same grants and political influence.

Even worse, perhaps, is the other, more ironic, side of this slide from science to sciencism, where populations are encouraged to blindly “believe the science” without question. Of course, science that cannot be questioned or tested or falsified is no science at all.

The present breakdown in trust in the intellectual integrity of science can be traced back to the environmental research field in the latter part of the 20th century, became highly conspicuous in the 2000s in the field of global warming, spread rapidly throughout energy production and has now spread to other areas such as biology, psychology and other areas of medicine – and even pure maths. More recently we have seen huge polarisation of the presentation and acceptance of science surrounding COVID treatments and medications, masks, vaccines, even lockdowns. New research in every field is parsed for political correctness before it is presented and will then be rejected, hidden, blocked by social media filters, or spun as fake news if it doesn’t align, announced as a major scientific breakthrough, amplified with any issues carefully concealed if it does. Regardless of any good intentions, that is a very anti-science position – on most social media we are not allowed to say so if we see that the emperor is naked (not if we would allow our accounts to remain open anyway). Sadly, some of those same companies are responsibly for much of the development of AI and automation, and we know from history that problems embedded in computer code can often remain a problem several decades after. Driven by activist positions today, instead of rigorous pursuit of scientific objective truth, they are very likely embedding flaws that will remain for the long term. After all, who fact-checks the “fact checkers” or bias-checks the “bias bounty hunters“?

Politicisation of science has reached the point where you can reliably determine someone’s views on the effectiveness against COVID of face masks or lockdowns by asking what they think of wind farms. Such is the nature of pre-packaged party-pack politics were the values of the faithful come defined as a menu fixe. Science that is just another branch of politics makes no contribution to development. This trend has been remarkably pervasive, with populist capture of once-trusted journals such as Nature, Scientific American, New Scientist and even bodies such as the Royal Society. Most news channels will only report research that supports their political leanings. Science is one of the most important pillars of progress, and its capture and distortion by politics is perhaps the strongest force pushing us further into a new dark age.

It isn’t only in science that large tracts of thinking are blocked. The last few years have seen severe stifling of free speech across large parts of the West, accompanies by equally severe distortion and redefining of language. The perceived truth of a statement now often depends more on the age, gender, background, ethnicity or political affiliation of the speaker than the meaning of their words. Again, this greatly undermines the structural integrity of knowledge and wisdom, lubricating our slippery descent back into the dark ages.

The prominent feature of this caustic cultural environment is the new religion of virtue, a collection of often nonsensical assertions with no supporting evidence apart than other nonsensical assertions, arising from the ever-shifting boundaries of political correctness as its advocates realised people were becoming more resistant to that term. Based primarily on emotion rather than reason, a whole new language has sprung up, the meaning of its words evolving quickly as its endless logical flaws are highlighted, searching for new niches where it can flourish. Like the Spanish Inquisition of old, its weapons are not logical reasoning and gentle persuasion, but oppression and aggression disguised as superior virtue. The law may not yet allow burning heretics at the stake, but destruction of careers and reputations and social exclusion are quite sufficient threats to force most people into line. Denying heretics platforms to speak, or simply shouting them out and intimidating potential attendees of the platform can’t be denied are hardly behaviours we’d associate with civilisation, but they are effective nonetheless. Accusing anyone who still won’t conform of being a racist, Marxist, or fascist can be an equally effective deterrent. Aggressive activism in an environment that doesn’t protect freedom of speech has created a semi-permeable cultural membrane, permitting flow in only one direction. As areas are captured, such as academia, any re-capture is prevented by ostracizing unbelievers and using consequent power to change syllabuses and ban teaching of anything that might resist the march of the new (ironically culturally homogenous, if optically diverse) virtuocracy.

This weaponising of virtue has resulted in many people, companies and other organisations falling in line with the ethical hegemony, sometimes even at the expense of losing many customers. As if making a sacrifice to the secular gods might just make someone else the target of their wrath instead.

This all coincides dangerously with the spread of surveillance technology, AI, and increasing tribalism. As one tribe gains control, and since that control can be more effective, the other feels more threatened, so emotions are reinforced, tribal lines strengthened, divisions deepened. Now, thanks to ubiquitous technology, the virtuocracy has the means, motive and opportunity to track and trace the virtue-compliance of other individuals and organisations. It’s no secret your passenger Uber and AirBnB score can penalise you (financially) for bad (moral) behaviour.

Now, we are seeing “citizenship grades” (reminiscent of Chinese-stye social credit scores) appearing in Californian schools – and potentially business-destroying guilty-until-proven-innocent Yelp ratings for businesses deemed (by legitimate customers… or malicious competitors) for moral, cultural or political transgressions.

In such an environment, where neighbours are incentivised to report neighbours; employees, turned whistleblower against fellow employees, employers and customers; trust – the very fabric of society – breaks down and social cooling, where everyone is incentivised to wear a social mask, perform a social ritual or publicly confess to a set of social beliefs they do not really believe in, sets in.

Cooperation suffers, and with it speed of progress. Progress slows and even reverses. Darkness takes hold.

If the dogma of the virtuocracy were different, it might not matter so much. But the “virtue” we are being pushed to adopt is divisive, tribalist, intolerant, racist, anti-capitalist, anti-equality, anti-science, anti-liberty, anti-thought. It replaces objective reality with a fantasy constructed from nonsensical assertions. We cannot possibly have a flourishing society based on such ethereal foundations, where something is true simply because it is asserted by a member of the self-appointed “right” side of history. If we do not act soon and effectively, descent further into the new dark age will be inevitable and it will take decades to recover.

In short, the progress into the new dark age has accelerated dramatically since my 2017 blog. The forces pushing us that way are stronger, barriers to our descent dismantled.

Where something is true simply because it is asserted. If we do not act soon and effectively, descent further into the new dark age will be inevitable and it will take decades to recover.

In short, the progress into the new dark age has accelerated dramatically since my 2017 blog. The forces pushing us that way are stronger, barriers to our descent dismantled.

About Bronwyn Williams

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst, who consults to business and government leaders on how to understand the world we live in today and change the world’s trajectory for tomorrow. She is also a regular media commentator on African socio-economic affairs. For more, visit http://whatthefuturenow.com

Twitter: twitter@bronwynwilliams

About ID Pearson

Dr Pearson has been a full time futurologist for 29 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment. Semi-retired and has relinquished four former professional fellowships, but still a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and life member of the British Computer Society.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/timeguide

Generation Bee – joint piece with Tracey Follows and Bronwyn Williams

Generation Z have only recently started getting media headlines as their first members reach adulthood, and a few journos are starting to talk about generation Alpha, still young kids now. But this a futures blog. What about the generation after alpha? Generation Beta? No of course not. Nobody wants to be beta. The alphas got lucky, but betas won’t want to be labelled second class to their predecessors.  So they won’t be called Beta. We think that Generation Bee is appropriate and we’ll explain why. It has a nice ring to it, and still fits the alphabetic naming sequence that began with Gen X.

Nobody ever remembers the exact dates of the various generations, and they aren’t written in titanium anyway; different sources differ. But here is a nice helpful chart from CMglee on Wikipedia showing the vague boundaries:

Generation Alpha

The Alphas are already here, some 6 or 7 years old now. COVID might define much of their lives, interfering so much with their education and their teens, suffering the consequences of social distancing damaging their emotional development, huge debts and high unemployment, holding back many of their parents, dampening leisure opportunities. By the time they reach adulthood, we’ll have had over a decade of recovery so although much debt will remain, the worst will be history.

Generation See

The Bees will start around 2028, give or take a year, and will run through to around 2044 if we take the typical 16 year generation duration, so Generation See should start in 2045. That’s a very convenient late marker because 2045 is when a lot of futurists such as me think we’ll start getting early direct brain links that increase our IQ, sensory capability, memory, and give us the first experiences of sharing minds and thoughts with other people telepathically. We might think of that next generation as the first transhumanists, with a higher ability to understand things hidden to their entire human ancestry. We’ll preemptively call that 2045-2061 generation Generation See, appropriate to their superhuman senses and capabilities offered by their bio-enhanced & hybrid AI brains, staying with the C alphabetic successor.

Generation Bee

So, back to generation Bee then. What will characterize them? Not quite superhuman yet, though with a few minor IT-enabled brain enhancements and smart drugs improving capabilities during their development. Some will have limited genetic modification, mainly having disease-related genes edited away, but possibly some positive enhancements that have been shown safe, and some that were picked from a multiple choice of embryos with different genes.

It’s possible that the Bees will be the first to make Mars their home, or at least visit in a meaningful way. They will be nomads by nature, like Gen X. Feeling somewhat alien in their home environment, never settling and pretty ambivalent about where home IS, they will be happy to wander anywhere in the hope of making their fortune, including space. Unlike their Zoomer parents who were conspicuously equality activists, Bees will be out to make the best of themselves, and to do their best for themselves. We might think of the exploration of space as a new gold rush.

In political and economics terms, they will have spent their childhood suffering the self-inflicted austerity of their Zoomer parents, their sanctimonious puritanism, their socialism, their defeatist degrowth and seeming determination to carry on living in unnecessary poverty long after the economy could have recovered so as not to make too much environmental impact. The Bees won’t experience any global warming and will wonder why, they won’t see any need for economy in a thriving world full of resources and high technology that allows things to be made with barely any environmental impact. Their Gen X and Millennial Grandparents will remember how they were as kids, spoiled rotten with loads of toys and computer games and they will be spoiling their grand-kids just as every generation of grandparent does. This will contrast heavily with the attitudes and behaviors of their Zoomer parents and will make the Bees determined to shed the austerity and grab back a life of plenty. The Bees will be rebels, they will want to return to prosperity. They will reject green dogma, reject the idea that they need to lead lives of austerity when the world can easily offer all they want and more. They will have a renewed work ethic, rebelling against a socialist world, demanding profits for their efforts, and will make a highly enthusiastic return to capitalism. They will have renewed enthusiasm for acquiring both things and experiences. They will become as busy as bees.

Having grown up in a thoroughly networked world accustomed to mature social networks, they will work together across distances instinctively, unlike the Alphas whose social networking went through generations of failed experimental legislation in futile attempts to curb political interference. By the time the Bees enter their teen years, augmented reality will be mature, and so will AI, operating at human-like levels across broad fields. Their friends and AI friends and partners will be there with them all the time. They will share realities, navigate city overlays, have their own secret signage and symbology, use multiple role avatars to denote functions. They will work cooperatively like bees, address new markets as intuitively and effectively as bees discovering a field of just-opened flowers. They will have their own information system, build new ideas and construct cellular organisations that other generations can’t even see. They will think together as effectively as a hive mind, because they’ll be so closely interwoven and connected they will essentially be a hive mind. Bees is a very appropriate name indeed. But it goes still further. When they face opposition or resistance, they will be more able to join in attacking their target than any previous generation. Their cyber-armory will be instant and a strong deterrent, as painful as a bee sting.

Having been brought up in this multiverse, where there is no single reality, no one real world, with many alternative real and virtual worlds competing for attention and immersion, their explorative mindset will spur them on to treat space as just another virtual frontier.

They will have been born after the crisis that we are going through now -the health, economic, political and societal crisis – so they will hear stories of ‘lockdown’ and ‘killing granny’ as if they are folklore and will perceive it historically as a collective madness and cult-like behaviour. Seeing this obvious widespread human liability to such failings, they will want to draw new boundaries between themselves and others – just for their own protection.

Technology development may well make it safe to take psycho-active drugs that today are dangerous. Bees will develop new legal frameworks for drug taking and hallucinogenics, which will be seen as just another type of experience that can lead to greater individual expression and personal and functional improvement. They might do their very best work under the influence.

Some of these drugs will work with trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or even be carried in micro-capsules that allow their release to be controlled electronically via networks, enabling synchronization of drug release in a large group. Some capsules may also have capability to electronically stimulate nerves or brain regions, creating pleasure both chemically and electronically.

One thing’s for sure, the Bees will throw the best parties the world has ever seen.

About Tracey Follows

company: https://futuremade.consulting

twitter: twitter@traceyfutures

side hustle: https://www.femalefuturesbureau.com

Forbes contributor: tracey follows 

About Bronwyn Williams

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst, who consults to business and government leaders on how to understand the world we live in today and change the world’s trajectory for tomorrow. She is also a regular media commentator on African socio-economic affairs. For more, visit http://whatthefuturenow.com

Twitter: twitter@bronwynwilliams

About ID Pearson

Dr Pearson has been a full time futurologist for 29 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment. Semi-retired and has relinquished four former professional fellowships, but still a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and life member of the British Computer Society.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/timeguide

Will China be the global winner from COVID?

A joint blog by Tracey Follows, Bronwyn Williams and ID Pearson

Will China be the global winner from COVID?

There have been many conspiracy theories about China suggesting that the virus was deliberately made. We may never know the whole truth.

Regardless of that, it is clear that, however unlikely, there is a greater than zero chance the virus could have been man-made. More importantly, a new virus could be man-made. Now that the West has shown its economically suicidal response to this one, there is a massive temptation for any rogue regime or terrorist group to produce a GM virus variant that is as or more lethal, as or more contagious. Death cults that want population reduction (such as environmental reasons) might well consider sponsoring such virus production in secret labs.

There is already one clear win for China: No-one is really debating democracy versus authoritarianism as it pertains to Hong Kong any more. But then no-one is really debating that choice anywhere because nation-states like the UK, France and USA, built on the core notions of freedom, have removed liberty and imposed a lockdown. Indeed, the few governments who have resisted – or even just delayed draconian encroachments on hard-won human rights to freedom of speech, movement and trade have found themselves cast as at best ignorant and at worst downright villainous by the popular press. This, despite the fact that the epidemiological and economic data and models projecting the socio-economic costs of the various paths of action (or inaction) available to authorities are questionable at best, downright misleading at worst. Perhaps Friedrich Hayek put it best when he said “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”. In other words, when faced with incomplete information, the first priority for any government should be to do no harm. When it comes to complex systems, seemingly simple solutions can have serious unintended consequences. This, however, is easier said than done in the face of an imminent threat when citizens, accustomed to having their every need met by their leaders are baying for someone to do something. This may well prove to be the biggest threat of all because populations can get awfully content being told what to do and relying on authorities to make all the tough decisions for them. Some may even be persuaded that this kind of big state, this kind of total state, isn’t really so bad after all.

The trouble is that authoritarian measures – such as state surveillance of health and cellular data and restrictions on freedom of movement or trade – adopted during times of crisis do not tend to simply disappear after the short term threat is passed.. As military men and women will tell you, it is much easier to get into wars than to get out of them. Likewise, it is much easier to lose civil liberties than it is to regain them. Have any governments who have removed or restricted citizen rights outlined any form of exit strategy for how to return those privileged post pandemic? No. The long-term normalisation of surveillance and authoritarianism driven by short-term fear threatens to create a global generation of Stockholm syndrome sufferers, grateful to the generosity of their gilded cage key keepers.

Result: China 1  – West 0

Perhaps what is most notable is that there have been several pandemics in recent memory: Zika, SARS, Ebola, swine flu, bird flu. None of these caused similar panic. The question is why. The answer lies in the way the current crisis has been handled by both mainstream and social media, both of which thrive on the spread of panic (a viral disease in and of itself), and panic, in turn creates an opportunity for authorities to capitalise on the crisis and consolidate both power and capital to their own ends. New deadly diseases emerge from nature frequently and next time the first news breaks on a future outbreak, the panic cycle we have witnessed in recent months is likely to repeat itself. Panic buying will follow, the media and the public will demand action, stock markets will fall, governments will be tempted to rush to close airports and print more money and take on more debt, and so on so as not to be the last man standing. That means that future outbreaks, however caused, will likely cause panic, confusion and likely major economic damage.

After spending tens or more likely hundreds of billions of pounds to get through COVID19, it may well be the case that the economy is only starting to recover before the next outbreak. The economy may not recover properly until we can end that cycle.

However, China, with its now proven technology to control its people, its centralised economy, and its much more compliant populace, conditioned over centuries of dictatorial rule to obey or face the consequences, would be more able to avoid such crashes.

The West will learn that the only way to avoid coming off second best in a crisis is to emulate its opponent, further eroding human rights and freedoms in the process. 

That is, of course, the rub: liberty has proven to work for the West in the long run. However, in the short run, there are trade offs. Authoritarians can do things that free men and women will not. From current events and reactions, it does not appear that the West has the short term courage (or citizens with the personal responsibility) to pay the price of long term liberty.

China 2 – West 0

Even as it becomes clear that China covered up the initial outbreak, denying other nations the benefits of foresight, and manipulated mortality rates, skewing economic and epidemiological models that could have been used to make better policy decisions, we may never know the full extent of China’s responsibility for this one. However, we can be sure they won this round, and will be the long term winners too, if our response here in the West is anything to go on.

About Tracey Follows

company: https://futuremade.consulting

twitter: twitter@traceyfutures

Forbes contributor: tracey follows 

About Bronwyn Williams

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst, who consults to business and government leaders on how to understand the world we live in today and change the world’s trajectory for tomorrow. She is also a regular media commentator on African socio-economic affairs. For more, visit http://whatthefuturenow.com

Twitter: twitter@bronwynwilliams

About ID Pearson

Dr Pearson has been a full time futurologist for 29 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment and is a chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society and Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science

twitter: twitter.com@timeguide

timeguide.wordpress.com

Reducing infection rates – common sense

We could greatly reduce suffering, deaths, economic damage and duration of lockdown if the authorities were to apply some basic principles.

Restrict travel between high and low infection areas

Some areas are much more highly infected than others. Travel from highly infected areas to much less infected areas should be severely restricted. The gain from doing so is far higher than by restricting other travel.

Restricting travel within high infection areas will also achieve greater gains than doing so in low infection areas.

Red and green trains

Instead of all trains being made available to everyone, red trains would carry groups more likely to be infected and would be used by people who either live or work in a high-infection area. Green trains would be used by those who both live and work in low infection areas. There doesn’t need to be a very high difference before statistical gains are achieved. Any station would receive a few red trains, then a few green ones.

A further derivative would be to have red and green supermarket hours to separate those who work exposed to high risk from those who aren’t.

Both of the above rely on separating groups that have very different infection rates and both are quite robust against moderate cross-infection.

Travel profiles indicate most effective use of limited testing

We already target health workers and carers, but what about the rest of the population?

The faster we can identify infected people and isolate them, the more we can reduce the rate of spread, the number of total infections, overall suffering, and deaths. Given very limited testing capacity, we must optimise our approach. Some simple reasoning applies.

First, there is little point in testing those in lockdown. It would be nice in an ideal situation but we aren’t in one. The few who become infected will still emerge if they become ill enough.

The rest fall in two categories. One group travels mostly alone in private vehicles. A few will come into contact with large numbers of people through their work. If we can identify those high-contact groups, they can be allocated a higher priority.

Those travelling most on public transport are much more likely to become infected, coming into more frequent contact with infected strangers and once they become infected, are likely to infect many more. Concentrating testing on them will achieve the greatest efficiency at finding (and removing) infected people from the mix. The more infected people that can be found and removed from public transport, the faster the virus will be controlled. We know who uses public transport most via their payment cards. We  also know that those using red trains will have higher incidence than those on green trains.

Simple logic therefore shows that limited testing should therefore be applied in the following priority:

  1. Front line carers
  2. Most frequent travellers on red-train public transport
  3. Less frequent travellers on red-train public transport
  4. Most frequent travellers on green-train public transport
  5. Less frequent travellers on green-train public transport
  6. Those living in red areas who travel mostly using private transport
  7. Those living in  green areas who travel mostly using private transport
  8. Those in lockdown who must still venture out sometimes
  9. Those in total isolation

This isn’t 100% optimised, but it is close enough.

15 basic technologies could help reduce exposure

  1. In lifts (elevators if you’re a Yank), or indeed any room that gets a lot of people traffic and may therefore spread infections, a simple passive infrared detector could monitor whether there are people in it, and if not, a strong UV light could be activated, which would help kill any viruses and bacteria present.
  2. Portable UV sterilisation boxes could reduce contamination on face masks in between uses so that it’s clean again before you go back out there
  3. Tethered drones equipped with strong (and directional) UV lights could continuously sterilise surfaces in some key areas. Untethered drones that can rapidly recharge could also help.
  4. High powered air filters that can remove viruses could be installed in train carriages, hospital wards and corridors etc.
  5. Industrial and domestic smoke and particulate scrubbers could be adapted to reduce the concentration of  airborne viruses in any area with high concentrations of people. Systems that use plasma or static electricity also exist.
  6. In corridors, either of these air cleaning mechanisms could be used alongside blowing the air in a vortex to maintain a narrow channel of purified air, so that limited filtering can still maintain a safe corridor.conjuction with high pressure
  7. Voluntary ‘digital air’ subscription could enable ‘cookies’ or markers to be collected by your mobile phone as you walk around. If other subscribers that have been in contaminated areas are nearby, your phone could alert you so you can stay clear.
  8. Just as we already have pollen and pollution forecasts, virus detectors could produce real-time information on areas to avoid, or that are safe to visit for exercise.
  9. Bongs (bottles that pass the air through a liquid) could be adapted to use rapid anti-viral fluids). Ultrasonic transducers could further continuously mist the anti-viral medium so that a large air volume is exposed to allow longer decontamination periods with a small amount of fluid.
  10. Spiky net face-masks (like an orange bag with soft spikes on each junction) could prevent people touching their faces.
  11. People could voluntarily wear ‘smart bindis’ made from thermal colour-changing materials similar to those used in cheap fish tank thermometers. You could tell at a glance if someone has a fever or not.
  12. Face masks and surface covers could be made from fabrics that contain nanospikes, attached to pizoelectric vibration devices that can send ultrasonic waves through the materials, physically rupturing virus and bacteria.
  13. Piezoelectric misting could also be used to make forehead mist generators that occasionally bathe the face in anti-viral mist
  14. People living nearby should be able to combine online orders to maximise logistics efficiency
  15. Gloves with antiviral insides that sterilise hands when worn. Obvious alternative is to sterilise inside and outside.

 

 

 

Happy 4th July! The future of independence

We’re living in interesting times. We are seeing faster change than ever before, and we get to decide the next few steps humans make towards the future. What a privilege! On this day more than any, it is a time to celebrate freedom and independence, but we must appreciate their value if we are not to risk losing them..

I wrote in 2016 that we need to make sure we preserve independence of thought, and two years on, that seems even more important as people retreat into bubbles. If existing tensions between opposing bubbles continue to increase, conflict is increasingly likely. Indeed it is not uncommon to hear people  fools state how ready they already are for it, gearing up for a fight for their flavor of civilization. If we can’t dismantle the bubbles, then one way of living peacefully side by side after the conflict might be  to consider a dual democracy.

Dangers to freedom and independence are many and diverse.

Increasing surveillance presents a different kind of danger. As AI becomes ever more powerful, our activities and thoughts will be monitored even more intimately and in more detail. Information gathered can be used to manipulate you, and the tools there are already pretty sophisticated. Philosophers have always discussed free will, but it will be under increasing attack. Preserving independence of mind will become more difficult.

Large global corporations and wealthy individuals also have a lot of control via the ability to build, rent or buy these control mechanisms, with blatant advertising at one end and sophisticated bots at the other, and that’s only today.

On top of that, we also have ceding more and more power to activists, who bypass normal democratic due process to enforce change by threatening and bullying people into submission. Mob rule is already threatening democracy and the rule of law. Terror of being attacked by online mobs on twitter or Facebook also causes self censorship of both actions and words, and soon increasing surveillance could extend that to thinking. Many people already feel they are losing freedom thanks to this sort of mob rule. As often noted in such debate, 1984 was not meant to be a guide book.

AI can up-skill activists to make them even more effective. A less unlikely threat from AI is an AI uprising, though it’s possible that we could implement AI-based governance, with AI’s threatening us with all sorts of consequences if we misbehave, Forbin Project style.

A more futuristic independence issue is space based groups. We recent saw Arcadia anoint its first chief. Will we see Mars colonies declare independence? Probably, but when?

We see seemingly contradictory demands for independence too. Californians sometimes talk about becoming independent, but many Californians also want to remove border controls and effectively let anyone walk in. In fact, a lot of people across the USA and Europe support having open borders. Old-fashioned warfare between countries can result in a rapid change of governance and culture, but such wars in the West are thankfully unlikely for the time being. However, over decades open borders could greatly change demographic and democratic makeup and culture as effectively as an invasion, albeit very gradually. That may very well bring welcome change – America has been a highly successful collection of diverse immigrants ever since the second Indian ancestor set foot there – but from a strictly independence point of view, is it not still a challenge to Independence if you give away control to others, however gradually?

Globalization by definition cedes local independence to belonging to global communities. The people witnessing the Declaration of Independence all those years ago probably never imagined that one day people might see themselves not as Americans but as part of a global community, eager to wipe away borders and let people everywhere roam where they want, under some sort of unspecified global order. Who will control it? Who will write and enforce the rules? A globally scaled European Commission? That is how the EU sees itself, as a model for future world government, and there are 500 million Europeans. Will the USA become just a colony of a distantly run empire again?

Just a few thoughts. I’m done.

Happy 4th July!

 

Introducing The Pythagoras Sling – a new space launch concept

The Pythagoras Sling has the potential to make getting into space much cheaper, safer and environmentally friendlier than rocket based systems. It needs commercial availability of graphene string but that will come.

Carbon Devices

Pythagoras Sling Concept The Pythagoras Sling, invented by Dr Ian Pearson, developed with help of Prof Nick Colosimo

More detail is here: Pythagoras Sling article

View original post

We need to reset society by bursting the bubbles

Looking at the state of democracy across the whole of The West right now, we are in deep poo.

I’ve written often about my concern that tribalism is increasing, that the live-and-let-live attitudes that used to prevail have been evaporation, that people are too quick and too willing to be aggressive against those with whom they disagree,  that common civility and manners are vanishing from politics, and that if we continue, we will end up with the Great Western War, essentially a civil war between an increasingly polarized Left and Right. Although I’ve never been sure about how fast the speed of change would get there, I’ve usually estimated mid-century or soon after.

Recent trends do not encourage optimism. In many cases, people are actually proud of their intolerance of the other side, proud to wear it as a badge. Even more ridiculously many of them call holding such a set of attitudes ‘love’, accusing the other side of being ‘haters’ even as they go out rioting against their existence and vowing never to live peacefully side by side with them because they stand for ‘hate’. It doesn’t bode well for peace, or for language. The love on display in the #lovetrumpshate demos is a doubleplusgood love, 1984 doublespeak for hatred and despising of ‘the other’, not the sort we used to understand. This new ‘love’ is love for those with who you share allegiance, and a deep hatred for everyone else. The very dangerous sort of love that wars are made from. The love I was brought up to understand is a love for others that doesn’t depend on who they are or what they believe. The sort that hates sin but loves the sinner. That’s actually a hard thing to understand and a tough principle to live by but many generations managed to do that. You may disagree with what someone says or does, but you can still love them as a person. That is love, not ‘intolerance of intolerance’, or ‘hating haters’. When you hate others for who they are, even if you rationalize that as being because they are evil, war is a short step away. In rare occasions, such as when it’s Hitler, doing what he did, then war is justified and we actually do take up arms.

If I only had friends I agreed with, I’d have none at all. I disagree often with many of the people who I follow or who follow me, but I am very happy to share the planet with them and to get on as best we can. Thankfully, almost all share that same view and accept me with all my differences. I hardly ever get trolled or called names. I sometimes tease, and sometimes get teased, sometimes I point out a few home truths and sometimes people point out a few of my faults too. And that’s about the limit for what should happen in civil society.

If you really do want a war and you’re prepared to kill others and die yourself for it, then fine, but have a good think about that first. If you’ve never lived through violent conflict first hand, and the nearest you’ve ever got is using a hashtag, waving a banner, emoting or virtue signalling, then grow up, get out of your playpen or safe space, and start behaving like a civilized adult. That involves discussion of tough ideas, it often involves looking at hard and unpleasant facts and it involves reaching very difficult compromises with other people, not just calling them names or sulking in a corner because you didn’t get your way. It’s the difference between being a kidult and an adult, the difference between a luvvie and a leader.

I don’t really need to labor that point, we all see this new intolerance and hatred every day now, whether it’s far right marches or far left ones, #lockherup or #lovetrumpshate, Brexiteers or Remainers, #blacklivesmatter or #alllivesmatter. I’ve said this stuff many times before. We need to learnt to get along. Sure, by all means gently tease the other lot, but accept that while you may not agree with them, they have just as much right to their views as you do to yours.

We may reasonably ask how we got to this state. When Thatcher was the most disliked PM the UK has ever elected, or when Reagan was elected, those who voted the other way accepted the result peacefully. They grieved and moaned a bit for sure, and argued against policies all the time of course, as they indeed should, but democracy carried on peacefully. When Tony Blair was elected, or Bill Clinton, or even George W Bush, it was still peaceful. Even when Obama was voted in just 8 years ago, it was still peaceful. The people who didn’t like it accepted that the pendulum would eventually swing back and they’d get their way again.

Some time during the last decade, the foundations of civilized society have badly eroded and collapse of the walls has started. If we don’t do some much-needed repair, then the Great Western War will go from an idea in a blog to reality.

There are several contributing factors. Replacement of religion by political correctness harnesses the religious zeal of a new convert to PC causes. The energy-intense fuel of sanctimony powers new-found hatred of their own community, as we see manifested in the white protesters whining about #whiteprivilege, cultural appropriation or joining the increasingly anti-white racist #blacklivesmatter movement. This is similar to the rejection of background, friends and family so often seen in new religious converts over the ages. Religion has declined quickly in recent years so this force is an important contributing factor, becoming a secular Spanish Inquisition.

But while secular religion substitution is a powerful force lying behind some of this new divide, it is not the strongest force. For that we need to look at the self-reinforcing social , information and cultural bubbles caused by social networking, and these are what really lie behind this divide growing over the last decade.

Social media such as Facebook provide a strongly insulated protected world where nobody ever needs to see views that differ from what they find comfortable. They are a safe space, a play pen, full of friends and same-thinking celebrities, full of being stroked, and safe from being attacked. Mostly anyway. They are therefore very dangerous places where group think is seeded, germinates and quickly matures, and where alternative views are kept away. Outside social media, the real media is populated and run by those who have become more polarized by these bubbles themselves, so the real media has also become far more polarized. People then watch channels they feel comfortable with and read papers that share the same spin preferences. So the social media and real media become aligned and a superbubble arises that accounts for the entirety of information input.

When people spend so much of their time in these bubbles and when they even get their news from them, filtered and spun to reinforce their existing groupthink, they can build an extremely distorted view of the world that bears little resemblance to reality. They may be wholly unaware of some events because their news source completely filters them out, or they might be aware of some other events, but via such spun reporting and presentation of the facts that they have no real understanding of hat actually happened. On the other side, another group is seeing different sets of events, or very different interpretations of the same ones. I read several newspapers every day, from different parts of the political spectrum, and I am often shocked by just how much difference there is in how they are interpreted and presented to readers. It really is no surprise that each side thinks of the other so badly, when although they are probably actually not very different people, they are seeing extremely different information. Even from the same set of events, people will come to very different conclusion if they only see some of what’s going on, and only though very distorted lenses and filters.

I’d therefore suggest that the biggest problem we face is not that half of the population are nasty horrible people who we should rightly refuse to peacefully co-exist with. The problem is that although the other side is really only slightly different from us, and probably share most of the same desires and values, and really only differ a bit on how best to achieve pretty much the same fair and free society we want, where the poor and unfortunate are protected as much as possible, and people can get on with living free and happy lives as they see fit, but are seeing extremely different information about what is going on because they are locked into different media and social media bubbles.

The problem therefore is the bubbles, not the people. Republicans and Brexiteers are actually not all uneducated misogynist omniphobic bigots. Democrats and Remainers are not all antisemitic antiwhite snowflake commies. A few on either side actually are, but most aren’t. Actually, almost everyone is quite a nice person who just wants to get on with life and will cheerfully help anyone else they can along the way. The problem is that each half thinks the other half are a bunch of idiots and nasties hellbent on wiping them out and destroying the world.

Social media was never meant to be the cause of division. We all imagined that networking would make the world a nicer place. We would all get to know each other better, learn that we’re really not that different, and peace would result. Actually, it has become a force for the amplification of tribalism.

I could speculate further that the deeper problem is advertising. Maybe the polarization has arisen because of self-reinforcement caused by tapping into small differences in personal preferences and pandering to them via advertising for commercial gain, thereby feeding them and making hem bigger. I could, but I need to develop that line of argument and leave it for another blog.

 

 

Estimating potential UK Islamist terrorism: IRA x 13

I wrote last June about the potential level for Islamist terrorism in the UK, where I used a comparison with the Northern Ireland troubles. It is a useful comparison because thanks to various polls and surveys, we know the ratio of actual active terrorist numbers there to the size of the supporter community.

The majority of people there didn’t support the violence, but quite a lot did, about 30% of the community. From the nationalist 245,000, the 30% (75,000) who supported violence resulted in only around 300 front line IRA ‘terrorists’ and another 450 in ‘support roles’ at any one time. The terrorist population churned, with people leaving and joining the IRA throughout, but around 1% of 30% of that 245,000 were IRA members at any one time.

We’ve recently had another survey on UK Muslims conducted for the BBC that included attitudes to violence. You can read the figures from the survey here:

Click to access BBC-Today-Programme_British-Muslims-Poll_FINAL-Tables_Feb2015.pdf

The figures they found are a little worse than the estimates I used last year, and we have slightly higher population estimates too, so it is time to do an update. The 30% support for violence attributed to the Northern Ireland nationalist community is very similar to the 32% found for the UK Muslim community. Perhaps 30% violence support is human nature rather than peculiar to a particular community. Perhaps all that is needed is a common grievance.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, 68% of UK Muslims claimed that they didn’t think violence was justified if someone ‘publishes images of the Prophet Mohammed’. The survey didn’t specify what kind of images of the Prophet were to be hypothetically published, or even that they were insulting, it just said ‘images’. That 68% gives us a first actual figure for what is often referred to as ‘the overwhelming peaceful majority of Muslims in Britain’. 32% either said they supported violence or wouldn’t say.

(The survey also did not ask the non-Muslim population whether they would support violence in particular circumstances, and I haven’t personally found the people I know in Great Britain to be more civilized than those I knew in Northern Ireland. If the same 30% applies when a common grievance exists, then at least we can take some comfort that we are all the same when we are angry over something.)

Some other surveys around the world in the last few years have confirmed that only around 30% of Muslims support violence against those who offend Islam. Just like in Northern Ireland, almost all of those supporters would not get directly involved in violence themselves, but would simply approve of it when it happens.

Let’s translate that into an estimate of potential Islamist terrorism. There are no accurate figures for the UK Muslim population, but it is likely now to be around 3 million. Around 32% of that is around a million; there is no point aiming for higher precision than that since the data just doesn’t exist. So around a million UK Muslims would state some support for violence. From that million, only a tiny number would be potential terrorists. The IRA drew its 750 members from a violence supporter base of 75,000, so about one percent of supporters of violence were prepared to be IRA members and only 40% of those joined the equivalent of ‘active service units’, i.e. the ones that plant bombs or shoot people.

Another similarity to Northern Ireland is that the survey found that 45% of UK Muslims felt that prejudice against them made it difficult to live here, and in Northern Ireland, 45% of nationalists supported the political motives of the IRA even if only 30% condoned its violence, so the level of grievance against the rest of the population seems similar. Given that similarity and that the 32% violence support level is also similar, it is only a small leap of logic to apply the same 1% to terrorist group recruitment might also apply. Taking 1% of 1 million suggests that if Islamist violence were to achieve critical mass, a steady 10,000 UK Muslims might eventually belong to Islamist terrorist groups and 0.4% or 4000 of those in front line roles. By comparison, the IRA at its peak had 750, with 300 on the front line.

So based on this latest BBC survey, if Islamists are allowed to get a grip, the number of Islamist terrorists in the UK could be about 13 times as numerous as the IRA at the height of ‘The Troubles’. There is a further comparison to be had of an ISIS-style terrorist v an IRA-style terrorist but that is too subjective to quantify, except to note that the IRA at least used to give warnings of most of their bombs.

That is only one side of the potential conflict of course, and the figures for far right opposition groups suggest an anti-Islamist terrorist response that might not be much smaller. Around 1.25 million support far right groups, and I would guess that more than 30% of those would support violence and more would be willing to get directly involved, so with a little hand-waving the problem looks symmetrical, just as it was in Northern Ireland.

If the potential level of violence is 13 times worse than the height of the Troubles, it is clearly very important that Islamists are not allowed to get sufficient traction or we will have a large problem. We should also be conscious that violence in one region might spread to others and this could extend to a European problem. On a positive note, if our leaders and security forces do their jobs well, we may see no significant problem at all.

Corporate morality

I wrote about many forms of exploitation in my book Total Sustainability and many of the things we dislike about business come down to that. There exists a stereotypical business executive for whom getting to the top is all that matters, and it doesn’t matter how many people they walk over on the way. Their mantra: “business is business.” Some executives are proud of being ruthless and scornful of factoring any morality into their deals, taking maximum advantage of any weakness in their opposition wherever they can. Thankfully, those in that stereotype are the minority. Most business people are decent people trying to make an honest living by providing good products and services to their customers while treating their employees as well as they can. The proof of that is that business scandals still make the news. Most people exercise the same sort of moral behavior in their companies that they do in everyday life and some studies have shown that around 90% of people are good and honest.

Anthony Howard wrote a blog on the issue of corporate moral obligation too, at: http://anthonyphoward.com/do-boards-have-any-moral-obligation/

Unsurprisingly, our views overlap. Most people agree that amoral and immoral corporates will have to behave better, and if they don’t they will face consequences thanks to the transparency and immediacy of the net and the speed at which consequences can appear. The ethical wolf is at the door.

In the age of corporate social responsibility and instantaneous network shaming, most companies already understand that they must appear to be doing the right thing so they have CSR departments. In most but not all cases, the CSR Department’s job is actually to figure out how to do better rather than replicating the marketing department job of spinning reality to achieve the best message. The few that pick the latter approach face regular social media embarrassment. Sunlight is a good disinfectant.

A few companies seem to aim for the minimum legal standards. As Anthony observed, their view is that they can do anything legal and that if people want them to behave better than the law should be changed to force them to. Some try to spin being greedy and irresponsible as fulfilling their corporate duties to their owners as well as possible. Voluntary codes simply don’t work to ensure good behavior when some companies take the line that anything goes if it’s legal. These companies believe that nice guys finish last, and spoil the markets for everyone. Forcing nasty people and nasty companies to do what nice people and nice companies do voluntarily adds very expensive rule-making, administration, checks and policing that everyone then has to pay for. Until then, there is temptation for the nice guys to behave worse to keep up with the bad guys.

That the law is badly written with lots of loopholes and with major differences still between nations reflects very badly on governments and the international governance that they have negotiated. Companies can still avoid paying fair taxes just by moving money among their offices in different countries, or duck environmental rules by moving operations or exploit employees by picking the right host country. These are legal but not moral. Bad laws do not justify bad behavior, even if they do accidentally permit it. Behaving ruthlessly and searching for loopholes to use does not make you a business genius, it just means you are a nasty exploitative person who happens to be in business.

Social networks and effective media are good at exposing bad practices and rewarding better ones and as the networks continue to mature, transparency may improve further.

One issue though that may tip the balance over the coming years is machine intelligence. People on company boards know they should act responsibly, that their company is a part of the wider economy, and most board members’ humanity would make them inclined to try to be responsible and to give something, not just be a parasite. If they choose to be parasitic, though it may be legal, they will face frequent conflict and shaming and ultimately their market suffers. Human nature includes emotions a strong moral enforcement mechanism. Nasty people can choose to ignore it, but most people are not nasty.

A machine-AI-based company might not care about being disliked but would still face social backlash and market decline if it behaves badly. The trouble is, although most machine-run companies would presumably be initially set up to behave well, others may be deliberately tuned to be as exploitative as they can get away with. Some such AI companies could be inherently agile, mobile, and even capable of evolving, just evolutionary algorithms wandering the clouds, immediately exploiting any weaknesses in any niches they find for a fast buck, rather like the malware we’re already used to but more effective. This is the next generation of the same sort of AI already embedded in City trading. Bankers may be disliked but they will seem like angels compared to the gutter level of next generation AI companies.

In the human system, backlash against bankers eventually led to a politically motivated crackdown on practices and rewards, and even though they have lobbied and fought to delay real punishment there can be little doubt that it is a battle they will eventually lose. More recently, backlash against global corporate tax avoidance has also resulted in new regulations and taxes.

With AI companies psychologically immune to emotional or political pressures, there is only one approach that can work and that is to fix the global corporate taxation treaties and other regulation, fixing the loopholes and bringing it all into line with what people consider reasonable behavior rather than the minimum acceptable. That is quite a task. Shabby lawmaking has been with us  far too long and there are lots of things to fix. But if political pressures haven’t been strong enough yet to get the task well under way, it won’t be much longer before they are. It will be difficult and expensive, but there will be no choice.

When that’s done, companies can still behave very well if they wish and reap deserved market benefits, but amoral and immoral companies will have no choice but to behave at the levels deemed reasonable.

However…

This solution requires that it is possible to police activity online and to block or eliminate rogue AI companies. Those that stick to the law would not be a problem, but some won’t if it possible to evade detection. With our national security services already moaning about the latest encryption systems, it may well be possible and even easy to evade detection long enough to make a quick profit, evolve,  and move on with a fresh instance to another target. Not all industries are susceptible of course. If manufacturing or distribution of physical products is required, then policing can move back into the physical world. If it is just electronic business such as mediating or advising or providing data, then companies could arise, exploit, cash in and move on within very short times, theoretically fractions of a second. Heavily encrypted organisations that only exists short times and are distributed among many servers may be impossible to police. Without policing, temptation is strong, and AIs could be set up to set up other AIs to set up other AIs to exploit whatever they can however they can and deposit the rewards in complex chains of accounts, also managed by AIs to provide fund extraction on demand.

This scenario is technologically feasible and could become a foundation of the future online criminal industry. It is limited to certain niches though, so it isn’t much of a nightmare. Most of industry and commerce still has to function within the law to do business effectively. The companies in those very dominant sectors will behave reasonably or better.

So… the future has a similar pattern to today – most companies behaving well or OK, and a few rogues, but the balance will be better. The minimum standards are likely to be higher, more of the holes in the rules will be sealed, and there will be a better relationship between companies and the communities in which they do business. Not perfect, but still better. I’ll settle for that.