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Race for the Future
Mike Treder   Jun 27, 2011   Ethical Technology  

Our future depends on the outcome of a three-way race between: 1) the development and implementation of emerging technologies; 2) the evolution of improved methods of governance; and 3) systemic breakdowns in the world economy and the global ecosystem.

Right now, #3 seems to be winning the race, by a long way. And even if #1 can begin to pick up the pace, the poor showing of #2 will impede #1 while at the same time bettering the chances of #3.

race

Effective progressive governance can heighten the chances for beneficial implementation of emerging technologies. Less progressive governance—a laissez faire approach to research and development—might, in the opinion of some, lead to more rapid development of transformative technologies. But it also means far less emphasis on safety and on equal access. Plus, with reduced government support for basic research, the exciting new technologies that many transhumanists crave could actually come slower instead of faster.

So, #2, better governance, is essential if we want the full benefits of #1, which in turn could, we hope, help to forestall or mitigate the impacts of #3, systemic ecological and economic breakdowns.

Conversely, less progressive methods of governance will make devastating breakdowns in either the global ecosystem or the world economy, or both, far more likely, while also increasing the possibility of wide-scale conflict.

smokeThe present inability of nation-states to agree on, and to apply, aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; the ongoing overfishing of the world’s oceans; the continued destruction of tropical rainforests and thousands of species within; increased ocean acidification and loss of coral reef habitats; etc.—all these are the result of inadequate global governance, and together they amount to a deadly combination that risks a truly catastrophic eco-collapse.

The lack of healthy progressive governance also impedes the finding of solutions to avert growing inequality between rich and poor nations, and between rich and poor within nations. It prevents the implementation of effective systems to manage financial transactions, potentially making us vulnerable to another out-of-control investment bubble and burst, costing taxpayers billions or even trillions. It places less emphasis on diplomacy and mediation to resolve conflicts, and more emphasis on military action, thus favoring nations who channel money to arms and armies ahead of other priorities, such as education, infrastructure, or clean energy.

In the race for the future, the narrow odds of seeing a near-term evolution of better governance (#2) means we face both a greater chance of disastrous systemic breakdowns (#3) and have less hope of seeing emerging technologies (#1) zoom to the rescue in time.

Even in a best case scenario, featuring the most significant plausible breakthroughs in nanotech, bio-engineering, artificial intelligence, robotics, or other potentially transformative technologies, and even with unexpected dramatic improvements in our models of global governance, the pressures of overpopulation and the inertia of climate change—positive feedback loops—could prove to be too much to overcome.

No matter what happens with #1 and #2, it still seems that by the year 2100 we are destined to see far higher global average temperatures, vanishing glaciers and ice caps, and a huge number of species lost, with serious consequences for human health, prosperity, and social stability.

Are we doomed, then? Shall we just give up?

Certainly not, because the sooner that these powerful new technologies can be developed, and the better they are implemented, the fewer people will suffer. Our choice, realistically, is between a bad outcome in the 21st century—thanks to our many decades of oil, gas, and coal-fueled gluttony—and a far worse outcome.


Is all this too pessimistic? Do you still believe that emerging technologies will transform the world so much that global warming will be cured and abundance will be ensured? That the advance of technology is so sure and so inevitable that a post-scarcity future is just ahead of us? Or is the above analysis on the mark?

We’ve opened a new poll for IEET readers so you can have your say.

Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.



COMMENTS

I find your best-case scenario rather uninspired. Though unlikely and nothing to plan on, the distant possibility exists of an AI genie popping up and completely reconfiguring material reality on the planet. No known physical laws prevent this. On the cosmic scale, the amount of energy and matter required to construct what we consider a utopian arrangement hardly even register.

Setting aside such intellectual exercises, focusing on governance worries me unless you mean it in the broadest sense. I want freedom and autonomous communities rather global bosses. In similar fashion, the whole notion of finance and the capitalist market economy have to go. System breakdowns need not be disasters. It’s the state and capital that oppress and cause the horrific current circumstances. Positive political change comes from local resistance and independence networked together. Liberal reformism will keep the monster intact.

@Summerspeaker

Free markets can solve environmental problems, but there are many situations (typically referred to as “tragedy of the commons”) where this process breaks down. 

“The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone’s long-term interest for this to happen”

Oceans and skies can’t be partitioned. Pollution in one part moves into another. ‘Global bosses’ are in our best interest on ‘tragedy of the commons’ issues.

-Nikki

Consumerism is the whipping post, and the consumer has the power to incite change, (even political change), but do they feel empowered? The retail sector trending, (and property markets), are the government’s best indicators for tweaking policies to encourage spending. Stop spending on trivia, non-necessities, and excess Carbon fuels and energies and they begin to wet themselves. The banks don’t much care however, cause they have your monies anyways.

Selfishness is still the root cause of all human ills, and a change of global consciousness is the solution - we must never give up trying to influence this change, although I’ve been hammering selfishness for decades without much success.

“Even a return to the standard left/liberal/progressive approach of, say, the 1970s, would not be enough of an improvement”

Got that right, Mike. I remember the ‘70s as if it were yesterday (crossed-eyes misting over). Let’s start with the New Left, which was one of the innovations of the ‘60s- ‘70s era. It started out promisingly in 1965 but became dominated by the same sort of capable martinets who ran Mussolini’s Italy, the Communist Party, the John Birch Society, and the KKK. So by the end of the ‘70s, Reagan did not appear to be as much of a departure from the norm that had evolved since ‘65 as he would have had he been elected POTUS say in ‘68 (boy, the fur would have been flying then). Dispensing with the history lesson, what do we do now?: we have to derail the GOP without derailing America in the process. Sure, we all know the Dems aren’t much better, however they have demonstrated they can adapt—while the GOP is hypostasized in Reaganism with no way out. Third Party? doesn’t appear so at all, not at this time; America isn’t actually conservative, yet it is exremely old-fashioned in many ways, and if you live in the South or Midwest you’ll know exactly what that means. As James Reston wrote, “Americans are a funny people, they change things with their hands, but they are very conservative [old-fashioned]. They are conservative but admire those who ‘live modern’ ” In other words Americans are double-minded. Which means we are at this time saddled with our 18th century Madisonian system—if it even is a system. Nevertheless, it is far easier to destroy than create, and if we really want to (and now I really, really want to), we can cut the GOP down to size by sabotaging it in so many ways. Starting by pointing out that the Bush administration of the last decade conserved nothing whatsoever; that Bush’s father wasted four years; that Dole & McCain were dorky old war vets—and that the American electorate is not so foolish as to vote for dorks like them. Voting is the one direct imput we have be it ever so imperfect (to say the least). Perhaps we might ally ourselves with libertarians in attempting to bring down the GOP. Not that it will be dome, but it has to be done and could be done if we weren’t so intimidated by the GOP. Naturally such is merely one factor among many, however we have to start losing our fear of them, they have to be brought down sometime so it might as well be now while we still have the time to do so. Bombs away!

And the rockets red glare
the bombs bursting in air
gave proof through the night
that our flag was stll there…

Since we’re not going anywhere politically, we have to declare a state of international Mergency.
Calling all Wizards.

I voted for #2 but it would be interesting to see a list of all the technology that would have to be invented to circumvent all possible ecological catastrophies. 

For example, could increasing “desertification” of land be combated by urban Farmscrapers ?

Water shortages alleviated by Desalination plants?  How many and where would they work? (only on coastlines)

Lumber replaced with… bamboo? 

Protein deficiency replaced by in-vitro meat?  (how far away is that?)

a list of how we could survive with incoming tech would be fun to compile, but it would probably just give us a false sense of optimism

Population Matters welcomes Lionel Shriver
June 22nd 2011

American journalist and author Lionel Shriver has accepted the invitation of Population Matters to become its latest Patron, joining a growing and diverse group of supporters who include Sir David Attenborough, Jonathon Porritt, James Lovelock and Dame Jane Goodall. In accepting, Lionel said, “I’ve been a passionate supporter of population growth reduction for decades, and this issue is close to my heart.

The world population will pass the seven billion mark this year. It’s a frightening landmark. From biodiversity loss to food and energy security to climate change, the damaging impact of our growing numbers on our fragile little planet is clearer than ever.

The solutions – good reproductive health for everyone, women’s empowerment, relieving poverty and encouraging smaller families – are widely accepted; but they lack the political support needed to ensure sufficient funding. We need to recognise that slowing population growth is one of the most cost-effective and reliable ways of easing pressure on our environment and securing a sustainable future for us all.”

>> http://populationmatters.org/2011/news/population-matters-welcomes-lionel-shriver-patron/

Abortion is a legitimate form of birth control (it ought to be admitted that it is in fact birth control). Here is Michelle Bachman’s position, and given how rightwing the South & Midwest are, she might be elected POTUS next year or in 2016; not that her agenda would go far—but she just might be elected:

“FIRST, to nominate to the U.S. federal bench judges who are committed to restraint and applying the original meaning of the Constitution, not legislating from the bench;
SECOND, to select only pro-life appointees for relevant Cabinet and Executive Branch positions, in particular the head of National Institutes of Health, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Health & Human Services;
THIRD, to advance pro-life legislation to permanently end all taxpayer funding of abortion in all domestic and international spending programs, and defund Planned Parenthood and all other contractors and recipients of federal funds with affiliates that perform or fund abortions;
FOURTH, advance and sign into law a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.”

“not legislating from the bench”

BTW, notice how ‘legislating from the bench’ is a ubiquitous buzz-phrase? the gay marriage bill in NY was voted in, not legislated; but just you watch, it will be claimed judges in other states telelogically voted gay marriage as law in NY—or something; they’ll say:
“judges legislating from the benches in other liberal states [albeit it is difficult to think of Iowa as a ‘liberal’ state] paved the way for the gay marriage vote in NY”—if they don’t say that, you’ll know they are thinking it.
To get on-topic: I voted “I’m not sure”, because the crystal ball appears too fuzzy at this moment in time. The future of AI looks fairly good, however as for the rest?: haven’t the foggiest.

I also voted “I am not sure”. Of course I tend to think of something like 2 as the best answer, but the words “global governance” keep me away from it.

I tend to think of “global governance"as “global dictatorship of an idiotic moral majority, which cannot be escaped because there is nowhere else to go, with oppression of all minorities and zero tolerance for alternative culture and lifestyles.”

But, Giulio, if say—a quick example for brevity’s sake—the future is something similar to Clockwork Orange, still we can live to 100+ and attempt to psychically shut out the world (you probably feel as I do concerning the Maddening Crowd, right?). So that leaves existential threats: solar-flare EMP, asteroids, volcanic activity; etc.
And the positive is such as, just for instance, in vitro meat, which is intriguing to non-vegetarians 😊

Mike Treder: “I agree with you that a wholesale restructuring of political and financial power is in order—but because that is highly unlikely to happen, I do find myself feeling, as you put it, ‘rather uninspired’ about our prospects for the next several decades.”

At any point in history, change in the existing order seems highly unlikely until people consciously take actions to bring about change, based on the objective conditions of the time.  Objective conditions for change are influenced by the level of technological development.  If everyone were to hold the opinion that change is unlikely, then nothing would change. The great figures of history are those who realized that change was possible and made it a reality.  The objective conditions today are ripe for change.  What we need now is visionary leadership that does not present a choice between bad or worse but shows how victory over current conditions can be attained.

“Man’s cognition not only reflects the objective world, but creates it.”

Hmm…  Things have been rapidly evolving before only to be drawn to a halt and forced to “reset”.  Take the dinosaurs.  Several eras with many species ever evolving and increasing in complexity were wiped away by a global catastrophe and environmental constraints.

While it may be a stretch, one can analogize potential for disasters and economic decline when looking at the advancement of technology.  Although, it does not seem that economic decline will have the same stopping power as a meteor impact (or nuclear attack).  The economic ecosystem will ultimately play a part in the speed of growth.

But a slow economy will not create a permanent “Prevail Scenario” or unending stagnation in advancement.  After a slow down, things will pick back up.

Just like Jeff Goldblum says, “I’m just saying that, uh, uh, Life, uh, finds, a way.”

Mark, your’s a concise post which concentrated my usually fuzzy thinking. All the same the entire way people think has to change, too—and that is not happening. I may exaggerate in writing we are ‘drowning in anachronism’, but perhaps we ARE drowning in outdated memes. Expressed in the vernacular: old fools run this world; many are pigheads plain & simple. You are quite convincing yet you are preaching to the choir at a technoprogressive site. You would have to convince the old fools & pigheads, when it is difficult to even so much as communicate with them diplomatically or not..

“What do we, as a human race, need to accomplish in the 21st century?” (TEDx Video presentation)

>> http://m.youtube.com/watch?gl=US&hl=en&client=mv-google&v=qmC2sKFSFzE&fulldescription=1

Peter, the following is a comment I did in a rightwing blog; it sums it up:
“America can only do business, it cannot do a good court, penal, or school system, etc.
Otherwise it would not be America.”

What America does best is agriculture and ‘defense’, it has the best agriculture & military. Now, I don’t know about Europe but so as not to pick on the U.S., think on how slowly Saudi Arabia is changing if a women’s movement is focused on incremental changes involving women driving. Snail’s pace, Pete.

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