Thanks to breakthroughs in science and technology, the future can be profoundly better than the present – provided we recognise this opportunity, and take appropriate actions.
In the coming weeks, the Transhumanist Party in the UK wishes to develop that general insight into something more specific. Our plan is to come up with a number of bold goals for the UK to achieve by 2035 – goals that are memorable, clear, inspiring, and distinctive.
These goals address the question: if people in Britain really apply themselves to the task, how good could life become by 2035?
The process to agree these goals will involve various surveys, as well as discussion and voting on the Party’s Discourse forum. This will take place over the month of June.
For each goal that makes it through the review process, we’ll need to have
- A crisp statement of the goal, and of the rationale for the goal
- A clear understanding of the current baseline (as in 2019)
- At least a broad idea of how to transform the 2019 situation into the one envisioned for 2035.
The right set of goals could become, over time, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. By framing a credible, uplifting vision, these goals could transform passive observers into engaged activists. They could catalyse powerful collaboration between groups of people who currently operate separately. They could reshape the political landscape, so that transhumanist topics increasingly move to centre stage.
Your feedback requested
Please find below an initial set of potential goals. Some of these goals are intentionally provocative. During the review process, some goals may be dropped, or changed, and a number of new candidates will surely emerge.
All members, friends, and (yes) critics of the Transhumanist Party are invited to offer their feedback and suggestions on these ideas.
Which goals do you most agree with? Which do you most disagree with? Which do you see as impractically ambitious? Or as too timid? Finally, what other goals would you want to see included?
By the way, the Transhumanist Party UK seeks no monopoly on these goals. We look forward to other political parties adopting the same goals – individually or collectively – and working to make them a reality.We also welcome other parties learning from the analysis and strategy we offer, for how the goals can be achieved. The sooner, the better.
The highest priorities
The goals listed below are all intended to contribute towards a higher set of priorities, which can be summarised by the phrase “promoting an abundance of human flourishing”.
The word “abundance” means that there will be enough for everyone to have an excellent quality of life. No one should lack access to healthcare, shelter, nourishment, information, education, material goods, social engagement, free expression, or artistic endeavour.
A number of qualifications are important. (See here for a wider discussion of these and related qualifications.)
- The enablement, not only of flourishing today, but also of flourishing tomorrow (and the days and years that follow): we should avoid actions that reduce the possibilities for future flourishing
- What’s desirable isn’t the flourishing of humans in some kind of aggregate (average) sense; instead, everyone should be able to flourish: individual flourishing should not be sacrificed or subordinated to any collectivist goal (e.g. in service of a nation, tribe, ideology, or leadership vanguard)
- The importance of appreciating rich diversity: we should nurture and tolerate diverse opinions and lifestyles within the overall community
- The generalisation of these principles beyond humans: to the extent that animal or artificial minds possess core attributes of consciousness, these minds deserve at least some of the same care and support as human minds.
Key to achieving the goals listed below is for society to take wise advantage of the remarkable capabilities of twenty-first century science and technology: robotics, biotech, neurotech, greentech, collabtech, artificial intelligence, and much more.
These technologies can provide all of us with the means to live better than well – to be healthier and fitter than ever before; nourished emotionally and spiritually as well as physically; and living at peace with ourselves, the environment, and our neighbours both near and far.
These technologies are by no means ends in themselves. The list below contains no goals that simply say “develop such-and-such a technology”. Instead, the technologies have value only to the extent that they are accelerating progress to the overall vision of abundant human flourishing.
Just as for technologies, so also for free markets. There is no goal to maximise economic exchange, or to remove all constraints on the actions of entrepreneurs. Just as technologies can have an adverse impact, so also can markets fail. Technologies and free markets, alike, need wise steering from society as a whole, to ensure they lead to greater human flourishing rather than to dysfunction or disaster.
Hence the importance of selective political action:
- Action to adjust the set of subsidies, incentives, constraints, and legal frameworks under which we all operate
- Action to encourage the kind of positive collaboration which might otherwise be undermined by free-riders
- Action to protect the citizenry as a whole from the abuse of power by any groups with monopoly or near-monopoly status
- Action to ensure that the full set of "externalities" (both beneficial and detrimental) of market transactions are properly considered, in a timely manner.
As we move forward to 2035, a number of additional operating guidelines will be increasingly important:
- The principle of preferring objective data: to help resolve clashes between different ideas, priority should be placed on pursuing and publishing objective data relevant to decisions, rather than simply accepting the say-so of would-be authorities
- The principle of active neighbourliness: we should treat others the way we would ourselves like to be treated, if we were in the same situation. Rather than keeping quiet about major opportunities someone is about to miss, or impending dangers about to befall them, we should find a way to speak up, just as we would ourselves like to be alerted to these opportunities or dangers in an equivalent circumstance
- The principle of openness: in deliberations between conflicting insights, no book, thinker, or tradition should be given any absolute priority. Society needs to remain open to current favoured ideas and methods being superseded.
This last principle suggests that any set of goals for 2035, agreed in 2019, is likely to evolve significantly over the coming years, as our collective understanding improves of what is possible, and, indeed, of what is desirable. But that’s no reason to procrastinate. Let’s get started!
1. Healthspan at least 90 years
The goal: The average healthspan in the UK will be at least 90 years.
The rationale: Good health is the starting point for all other activity. Declining health diminishes opportunities and imposes huge healthcare costs.
More detail: Healthspan is the amount of time an individual can live independently, without being hospitalised or requiring regular attention from healthcare assistants.
Health systems around the world are largely set-up to focus on treating people once they have started to become unwell, and prolonging life. In other words, treating illness and increasing lifespan.
But what good is living longer, if those years added are in poor health or without a good quality of life?
If we are so focused on increasing how long we live, should we not also focus equal effort on increasing how long we live in good health? …
That is why we’ve developed HealthSpanTM, a suite of related measures that can show whether people are in good health, and for what portion of their lives. In other words, measuring a population’s Healthy Lifespan®.
The baseline: The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics for expected lifespan in the UK (based on the statistics of the ages of people at their death, for people who have died in the last three years) is 82.9 years for women and 79.2 for men. The same data source states that
Healthy life expectancy (HLE) at birth was 63.1 years for males and for females was 63.6 years.
In effect, this predicts that someone will, on average, be fully healthy for only 77%-80% of their lifespan.
The trends in HLE, as estimated several times over the years, aren’t encouraging. For example, female HLE at birth in the UK has decreased by three months over a six year period (from 2009-11 to 2015-17).
Strategy to increase healthspan: The root cause of age-related ill health is a set of different types of damage that accumulates at the cellular and molecular levels inside the body. By systematically addressing this damage, a substantial reduction should be possible in the prevalence of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, dementia, stroke, and diabetes.
This is no idle theory. It is important to draw attention to the remarkable progress being made in the fields of regenerative medicine and rejuvenation biotechnology, and to the prospects for even faster progress in the years ahead. Thanks to a forthcoming suite of new biomedical interventions, the restorative biological properties that we presently experience in our youth, which generally enable us to bounce back quickly from injury or illness, will no longer lose their power as decades pass. Instead, it will become possible in the not-so-distant future to extend these restorative self-healing powers indefinitely, by taking advantage of biochemical and nanotech innovations such as nanosurgery, 3D bioprinting, genomic engineering, and stem cell therapies, in combination with personalised medical treatments enabled by machine learning of huge sets of medical data.
These restorative processes will not only be extended in their duration, but they will also grow in their scope and effectiveness. Diseases which formerly threatened even the most robust physical constitution will be cured quickly. The destructive power of new pathogens will meet their match in the constructive restorative power of highly intelligent, swiftly adapting, personalised suites of biomedical therapies. Due to continuous monitoring of all our vital statistics, and of threats in our environment, corrective interventions can be triggered at much earlier stages in any downward spiral of bodily dysfunction.
These interventions will be an extension of the important principles of preventive and proactive healthcare – addressing issues at an early stage, before they become more complicated and expensive to treat.
Examples of interventions already under investigation include:
- Senolytics, a new class of compounds that selectively remove from the body old and dysfunctional senescent cells (commonly described as “zombie cells”)
- The selective application of the enzyme telomerase to extend the telomeres at the ends of chromosomes, effectively “resetting the clock” of the cells involved
- CRISPR reprogramming of cellular systems at both the genetic and epigenetic levels
- The use of human growth hormone (HGH) and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) to regenerate the thymus, thereby countering the age-related decline of the immune system (also known as immunosenescence)
- Mitoprotectants, such as NAD+ precursors like NR/NMN, or other antioxidant biomolecules (MITOQ), which help to protect the power plants of our cells (the mitochondria).
What’s more, a very useful role can be played by automation, machine learning, and testing within increasingly accurate computer simulations of biological systems: existing natural and pharmaceutical compounds can be screened and evaluated for activity that may target key molecular processes involved in the repair of cellular and molecular damage.
To proceed quickly, these initiatives deserve a greater share of society’s resources to be applied to them.
It is encouraging to see the emergence of new investment mechanisms such as the Juvenescence portfolio of companies of companies developing treatments to extend healthspan. The founder of Juvenescence, Jim Mellon, comments as follows:
We aim to have about 20 shots on this goal – longevity science – and if we get two or three of them right, there will be a very good return to shareholders.
However, progress will be even faster with coordinated public action, such as advocated by the recently formed “Party for Health Research” (Partei für Gesundheitsforschung) political party in Germany:
The Party for Health Research would like to invest an additional one percent of the government’s budget in the development of effective medicine against the diseases of old age. Because everyone is affected directly or indirectly by age-related diseases, everyone would benefit from this. To pay for this, one percent would be subtracted from each of the other budgetary items.
Half of this additional money would go towards the construction and operation of new research facilities and the other half would be invested in training more scientists in the relevant fields. For this, the respective university departments would be extended.
However, the faster development of effective medicine against age-related diseases is not only a question of solidarity and ethics. [Society] would also enjoy large economic benefits. Today’s medical costs are already huge and will continue to grow with the upcoming demographic change. A reduction of age-related diseases would lead to an enormous economic benefit. Furthermore, this medicine against the diseases of old age will become the biggest industry ever as everybody needs it…
For more details of the technical and ethical analysis of extending healthspan, see the book “The Abolition of Aging: The forthcoming radical extension of healthy human longevity”.
2. Mental health problems <1%
The goal: The fraction of people with mental health problems will be 1% or less.
The rationale: Too many people nowadays suffer from deep depression, anxiety, loneliness, mood swings, and suicidal tendencies. This directly reduces the quality of their experiences. It also causes social strains due to ill-judged actions arising from disturbed mental processing. Mental ill-health often leads on to behaviour that is fanatical, fundamentalist, criminal, socially divisive, and/or self-harming.
More detail: The proportion of people with mental health problems is estimated every seven years by the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. The most recent survey was in 2014, and was conducted on behalf of NHS Digital by NatCen Social Research.
The baseline: Results from the most recent Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey include the following:
- Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year
- 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week
- 5.9% of people experience generalised anxiety disorder
- 4.4% experience PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)
- 3.3% experience depression
- 3.3% experience antisocial personality disorder
- 2.4% experience phobias
- 2.0% experience bipolar disorder
- 1.3% experience OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).
It may be argued that there are positive aspects to some of these psychological states – in other words, that it is wrong to classify so many people as having mental health problems. For example, some degree of stress and inner mental turmoil can be productive, in leading to positive personal transformation. However, in far too many cases, what we’re seeing is stress that destroys character rather than builds it up.
Indeed, for men in England and Wales between the ages of 20 and 49, suicide is the leading cause of death. The WHO has predicted that, by 2030, depression will be the largest single cause of disease burden worldwide.
Strategy to decrease mental health problems: Twenty first century understanding of the brain and mind suggests a number of steps that can be pursued:
- Greater access to mindfulness training, such as methods promoted by the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute
- Guided meditations and guided lucid dreaming
- Improved understanding of the impact on mental health of diet, exercise, and sleep
- Use of selected psychedelics, as being investigated by the Centre for Psychedelics Research at Imperial College
- Monitoring of mental state, available via biofeedback and other measurement systems
- Use of “smart helmets” to deliver tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) and related electromagnetic stimulation
- Personalised “intelligent assistants” which coach people regarding actions likely to affect their mental health.
Perhaps even more important, the above initiatives will be improved by a greater awareness of how mental wellbeing is impacted:
- By social circumstances, including relentless bombardment by advertising, and worries related to money and work
- By philosophies – including the mental stories people tell themselves.
Accordingly, a significant factor in overcoming adverse mental patterns will be the positive vision of working towards a society of an abundance of human flourishing.
3. Carbon neutral (via greentech)
The goal: Thanks to improved green energy management, the UK will be carbon-neutral.
The rationale: Unless countries around the world become carbon-neutral, there are major risks of chaotic changes in global climate arising from runaway global warming. As individual countries take action, it will alter the set of motivations applicable to other countries.
More detail: The phrase “carbon neutral” is shorthand for an overall neutral effect of all actions by a country that increase or decrease the likelihood of global warming. These actions include all emissions of greenhouse gases (from industry as well as from domestic use of energy), as well as processes to extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
The goal explicitly omits any reliance on “carbon offsetting”, in which money is paid in some kind of compensation for greenhouse gas emissions. The reduction of greenhouse gases must be actual, rather than conceptual. Moreover, the goal rejects any creative accounting in which various actions initiated by the UK are completely omitted from the balance sheet – actions such as international shipping, flights to overseas destinations, and the production of goods overseas for import into the UK.
For further discussion of measurement of overall “carbon footprint”, including “consumption emissions”, refer to the report published regularly by Defra, the UK’s Department for Food and Rural Affairs, “UK’s carbon footprint”. From that report:
In 2016 total greenhouse gas emissions associated with UK consumption were 3 per cent lower than in 1997 when this series [of measurements] begins.
The UK’s carbon footprint peaked in 2007 at 997 mt CO2 equivalent. In 2016 it was 21 per cent lower than the 2007 peak (784 mt CO2 equivalent).
A linear extrapolation of the trend from 2007 to 2016 would suggest that the UK could be carbon neutral within 36 years from 2016, namely 2052. The proposed goal evidently requires a considerable acceleration in the transformation to greener activities.
Note that this goal is fully compatible with people using large amounts of energy (and large amounts of resourcing). There’s no intrinsic need to revert to a more frugal lifestyle. The point, instead, is to ensure that the energy avoids undue emissions of greenhouse gases (and that resources are replenished in a sustainable manner).
The baseline: It has been known for more than a century how greenhouse gases can trap more of the sun’s energy and raise average global temperatures. But the dynamic heat circulation mechanisms within the earth’s overall climate systems are fiendishly complicated. Different experts make different forecasts about future impacts, and express different levels of confidence about these predictions.
Emphatically, this level of uncertainty is no reason to relax. As a matter of prudence, scenarios in which drastic changes could take place within just a few decades need to be taken seriously.
These runaway scenarios feature adverse positive feedback cycles, the destabilisation of long-established current patterns in oceans or the atmosphere, and increased chaos from extreme weather events. For example, hotter temperatures reduce the amount of ice cover, which reduces the amount of sunlight reflected back into space, which, in turn, further increases the temperature. And long-buried methane gases which are being exposed by the melting of Siberian tundra, may quickly add to the quantity of airborne greenhouse gases, ratcheting temperature gains even further – in turn melting more tundra and causing even more long-buried methane gases to be released.
This threat goes beyond the possibility of mere linear changes in temperature. Increased heat could spark a comparatively sudden phase change in the earth’s climate, pushing up the global average temperature by several degrees in less than a decade.
Similar changes have taken place in the past, resulting in mass extinctions of large numbers of animal and plant species.
Smaller calamities could prove disastrous in their own way, via “threat multiplier” mechanisms, as noted by the US Department of Defense. The DoD warns of climate change acting as a set of “threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence”. Social unrest that can (just about) be contained at the present time, may become completely unmanageable in the context of greater damage being inflicted regularly by adverse weather on agriculture, transport, and other key aspects of daily life. It is said that every society is only four square meals away from revolution and anarchy. That’s not a theory we should be in any hurry to test.
Strategy: The good news is that a number of technologies to systematically reduce the threat of damaging climate change are on the point of being developed and applied. The price of energy from wind, wave, and solar has been dropping steadily, decade after decade. New designs can improve capacity as well as drive down costs even further. After all, more than enough energy reaches the earth from the sun in just a few hours, to meet the needs of the entire human population for a whole year. In principle, all that’s needed is to accelerate improvements in the harvesting, storage, and transmission of energy from renewable sources.
The bad news, however, is that the pace of implementing improvements is currently far too slow. It’s not just that the generation of electricity needs to swap over from carbon-based to clean mechanisms. We also need widespread reforms of other economic activities that are collectively responsible for more than fifty percent of greenhouse gas emissions – activities such as farming, transport, and the manufacture of steel and cement. Another complication is a potential shortage of the raw materials needed in increasing quantities in the construction of ever larger numbers of solar panels, wind turbines, and other generators of clean energy.
Accordingly, political action to accelerate the transition is needed as a matter of high priority. This action includes significant subsidies for next generation green technologies – including next generation systems for energy storage and energy transmission, as well as mechanisms such as “artificial photosynthesis” to create fuels from sunlight. It also includes the reduction of subsidies (direct or indirect) for activities that increase greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, this action also includes the imposition of taxes on such activities – taxes that scale up over time, in order to increase the incentives favouring cleaner modes of operation.
Such actions will face trenchant opposition from the companies and organisations who believe they benefit from the status quo. This opposition cannot be overcome by friendly rational persuasion alone. Other sorts of forces will need to be applied in parallel – including economic forces, legislative forces, and a transformed public zeitgeist.
It will be important to keep an open mind about solutions. Nuclear fission and/or fusion could play important roles, as well as negative emissions technologies (carbon capture and storage) and geoengineering initiatives. These initiatives will need political support in order to progress sufficiently quickly.
Note: At the beginning of June 2019, the incoming Prime Minister of Finland, Antti Rinne, committed that country to be carbon-neutral by 2035. Achieving this goal would not rely on any creative accounting: “”Finland does not intend to rely on buying credits for carbon cutting projects in other countries”. Planned measures include “energy tax reforms, investment in railways and nature conversation, and sustainability rules for generating energy from burning wood”.
4. Zero waste (via recycling+)
The goal: Thanks to innovations in recycling, manufacturing, and waste management, the UK will be zero waste, and will have no adverse impact on the environment.
The rationale: Pollution from plastics already threatens numerous ecosystems around the world. Other so-called “planetary boundaries” are approaching dangerous tipping points. Use of resources from the environment needs to be on a sustainable basis.
More detail: Research from the Stockholm Resilience Centre has identified nine “planetary boundaries” where human activity is at risk of pushing the environment into potentially very dangerous states of affairs:
- Stratospheric ozone depletion
- Loss of biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and extinctions)
- Chemical pollution and the release of novel entities
- Climate change
- Ocean acidification
- Freshwater consumption and the global hydrological cycle
- Land system change
- Nitrogen and phosphorus flows to the biosphere and oceans
- Atmospheric aerosol loading.
Between now and 2035, it is vital that the risks of accelerated environmental damage have been fully tamed.
The baseline: The organisation Earth Overshoot Day regularly carries out calculations comparing the demands of the population to the capacity of the planet to regenerate resources. The supply side of this calculation estimates the planet’s biologically productive areas of land and sea, including fishing grounds, cropland, grazing lands, and forests. The demand side estimates demand for livestock, fish products, plant-based food, timber and other forest products, and so on. The result for 2018 was that the demand exceeds supply by a factor of 1.7. Stated in other words, by 1st August 2018, the human population had already consumed more of nature than the planet can renew in an entire year. Accordingly, the 1st of August is dubbed “Earth Overshoot Day” for 2018. It is said that, if everyone around the world adopted the same lifestyle as people in the USA, Overshoot Day would be 15th March.
If matters continue unchanged, this state of affairs seems unsustainable. It would appear that overfishing, over-harvesting of forests, and overuse of land, should be a cause for real concern.
Indeed, there are reasons to fear potential sweeping unwelcome side-effects from agriculture becoming overly dependent on new chemical treatments and new genetic manipulations. Larger and more mechanised doesn’t necessarily mean more resilient. Biochemical innovations can have long-term consequences that weren’t evident from short-term trials. The real world is a much messier, more complex place than a carefully controlled research laboratory.
And there are reasons to fear that the pursuit of increased profits by powerful agrochemical corporations will result, not in the feeding of the world, but in the unintentional poisoning of the world. Just because a product makes good short-term financial sense for a company and its investors, that’s no guarantee of a positive long-term effect on human well-being.
Strategy: For each of the planetary boundaries identified, the same themes emerge:
- Methods are known that would replace present unsustainable practices with sustainable ones.
- By following these methods, life would be plentiful for all, without detracting in any way from the potential for ongoing flourishing in the longer term.
- However, the transition from unsustainable to sustainable practices requires overcoming very significant inertia in existing systems.
- In some cases, what’s also required is vigorous research and development, to turn ideas for new solutions into practical realities.
- Unfortunately, in the absence of short-term business cases, this research and development fails to receive the investment it requires.
In each case, the solution also follows the same principles. Society as a whole needs to agree on prioritising research and development of various solutions. Society as a whole needs to agree on penalties and taxes that should be applied to increasingly discourage unsustainable practices. And society as a whole needs to provide a social safety net to assist those peoples whose livelihoods are adversely impacted by these changes.
Left to its own devices, the free market is unlikely to reach the same conclusions. Instead, because it fails to assign proper values to various externalities, the market will produce harmful results. Accordingly, these are cases when society as a whole needs to constrain and steer the operation of the free market. In other words, democratic politics needs to exert itself.
In more detail, we can point to six answers for how society can address scarcity of goods, without adversely impacting the environment:
- Where there is a genuine scarcity, items should be shared, rather than restricted to just a few owners. Accordingly, we should welcome the growth of the circular economy, and the associated changes in mindset.
- Improvements in recycling processes – including the use of nanotechnology – will be able to extract rare materials from older products, enabling higher amounts of re-use in newer products.
- Alternative designs can be devised – often taking advantage of insights from artificial intelligence – that allow readily available materials to be used in place of rarer ones. In many cases, innovative new nanomaterials might serve as better alternatives to the components presently used.
- As a consequence of better design and better manufacturing, material goods will become more robust, with self-cleaning and self-healing properties. This will extend their lifetimes, and reduce the need for rapid turnover of new products.
- The asteroid belt, mainly lying between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, is thought to hold huge quantities of all sorts of elements. It will require a major project to mine these asteroids and transfer minerals back to the earth. However, by taking advantage of abundant solar energy, and both spacecraft and mining equipment operated via automation, the project could make good economic sense.
- The relative importance of material goods will in any case decline, as people come to spend greater amounts of their time in inner, virtual worlds.
It remains to be seen which of these six answers will turn out to be more important in practice. What is clear is that there are many options to be explored.
For further discussion, see the ideas highlighted by Kate Raworth in “Doughnut Economics”.
5. No need to work for income
The goal: Automation will remove the need for anyone to earn money by working.
The rationale: Increasingly powerful automation systems, including robotics and AI, will be able to take over an ever growing number of tasks from humans. This should be seen, not as a threat to the livelihood of employees, but as an opportunity for humans to spend time on matters of most interest to them. No one should find themselves spending time on what they perceive as “bullshit jobs”, or in labour that is back-breaking or soul-destroying.
More detail: The threat to employment from automation has long been foretold. Up till now, these predictions seem to have been premature. People who have lost jobs in one occupation have been able to retrain to acquire jobs in new occupations. However, the closer that AI comes to AGI – the closer that artificial intelligence comes to possessing general capabilities in reasoning – the greater the credibility of the predictions of widespread unemployment. The closer that AI comes to AGI, the bigger the ensuing social disruption. Anticipating and managing this disruption will require significant changes to the social contract – the system by which people in society look after each other.
Even though we cannot be sure of the timescales, we can make the following prediction. As AI improves, it’s going to become increasingly hard for people who are displaced from one job by automation, to quickly acquire new skills that will allow them to carry out a different job that has no short-term threat of also being automated. Therefore, sooner or later, more and more people are going to find themselves unexpectedly out of work – or if not unemployed, then underemployed. Without an adequate safety net, their standard of living is set to fall.
The requirement for people to seek paid employment belongs only to a temporary phase of the evolution of human culture. The basis for societies to be judged as effective or defective, is not the proportion of people who are in long-term unemployment, but the proportion of people who can flourish, every single day of their lives.
Accordingly, we should plan a stage-by-stage enhancement of the social safety net – the development of a safety net that provides all members of society with access to the goods and services that are fundamental to an agreed base level of human flourishing.
The baseline: The prevailing mindset can be called “the primacy of paid employment”: unless someone undertakes paid employment, they are a substandard person, who should be reproached or scorned.
Of course, societies already make many exceptions to this concept. Basic pension payments are provided to all citizens, so long as they are old enough, without them needing to continue working. Basic educational funding is provided to all citizens, within certain age boundaries, even if they have not started paid work yet. Basic healthcare treatment is, this time with no age limits, provided free of charge to all citizens, whether or not they have paid employment. And when someone has lost their job, public funding is available, for a while at least, to help them as they look for a new job.
As another exception to the primacy of paid employment, family members frequently look after one another. Larger groups of mutual assistance “friendly societies” developed in many cultures around the world, in which resources were pooled, in order to assist members of the group who had special needs.
This spirit of mutual support should be applauded. Without a social safety net, a powerful spirit of apprehension can arise. The fear of becoming detached from the basic means of human flourishing can cause people to become narrow-minded, grasping, and self-centred. The fear of losing out generates resentment and bitterness. It drives people into a scarcity mentality, in which any gain by some members of society is seen as requiring others in society to suffer exploitation. Adverse effects follow, not only in personal wealth, but in personal health; not only in self-esteem, but in the quality of social relationships.
Whilst increasing numbers of people are finding themselves in precarious circumstances, the media bombards them with images of other people seemingly enjoying life as never before. For a highly visible subset of society, life appears to be full of marvellous material goods and mesmerising experiences. In contrast, for those impacted by technological underemployment, there’s a growing sense of unfairness and alienation. They perceive that the best opportunities of life are passing them by. They perceive themselves to be victims of how society is changing.
These sentiments render the populace all the more prone to being swayed by misleading theories about the causes of their predicament – theories that attribute their misfortune to scapegoats such as immigrants, rootless internationalists, modernists, multiculturalists, far-off bureaucrats, and so on. It’s time to take back control, they are told.
The sentiment is valid, but the courses of action recommended are frequently naive and dangerous. Fast-talking Svengali figures evoke various fantastical visions of local sovereignty, of national destiny, of returning to a simpler past, of cultural homogeneity, of military glory, of religious revival, and of confounding the opinions of uppity experts. In their hearts, the populace often discern the drawbacks of these courses of action. But due to feelings of desperation, they think that it’s nevertheless worth shaking up the whole political system. Against their better judgement, they allow themselves to be swayed by emotive distortions and base generalisations, and they cast their votes for various demagogues and autocrats – people who claim they should be immune from the normal democratic processes of checks and balances. Alas, instead of gaining control, the populace will actually lose control.
We should beware any social transformation programmes that ignore the accelerating disruption caused by pervasive automation and machine intelligence. Such programmes are likely to cause more harm than good. Unless they directly address the challenges of tech-driven underemployment, political initiatives will waste time, distract attention, squander resources, damage social systems that should be part of the real solution, and store up an even greater sense of unfairness and alienation.
Strategy: The following high-level strategic direction should be adopted for the economy: prioritise the reduction of prices for all goods and services that are fundamental to an agreed base level of human flourishing.
The end target of this strategy is that all goods and services fundamental for human flourishing should have zero price. Three policies carried out in parallel will advance towards this target:
- The policy of reducing underlying prices, step by step, via rapidly improved automation
- The policy of providing public subsidies to alleviate whatever prices remain in place
- The policy of starting with an agreed basic set of goods and services, and step-by-step extending this set.
Progress can be tracked via a series of indices of the “cost of living”. Each such index should decrease over time, approaching zero. Over time, more focus will be given to later indices in the series – indices that include a greater range of goods and services formerly regarded as “luxury”; these indices should approach zero in due course too.
For those goods and services which carry prices above zero, public subsidies can be provided as a mixture of:
- Elements of an unconditional payment, provided to everyone in society
- Elements of a conditional payment, dependent on the recipient fulfilling requirements agreed by society, such as education or community service
- Individual payments for people with special needs (such as particular healthcare requirements).
These public subsidies can be paid out of a dividend distributed from the shared commons of society’s accomplishments. In practical terms, payments can come from:
- Stronger measures to counter tax evasion (addressing issues exposed by the Panama Papers as well as the inconsistencies of different national tax systems)
- Increased license fees and other “rents” paid by corporations who benefit from public assets such as land, the legal system, the educational system, the wireless spectrum, and so on
- Increased taxes on activities with negative externalities, such as a carbon tax for activities leading to greenhouse gas emissions, and a Tobin tax on excess short-term financial transactions
- A higher value-added sales tax
- A higher marginal tax on extreme income and/or wealth
- Reductions in budgets such as healthcare, imprisonment, where the needs should reduce once people’s mental wellbeing has increased
- Reductions in the budget for the administration of currently over-complex means-tested benefits.
The subsidies should start low, with the intent of increasing over time. Their effects should be reviewed ahead of any changes.
Politicians such as Andrew Yang in the United States are developing similar ideas under names such as “Freedom Dividend” and “Universal Basic Income” (“UBI”). In the UK, the RSA has developed its own model for “Basic Income”. Much can be learned from the feedback these ideas are receiving.
6. Universal free education
The goal: World-class education to postgraduate level will be freely available to everyone via online access.
The rationale: Education opens many new vistas, by providing information, skills, and connections. There is no reason for education to be particularly expensive, thanks to a forthcoming expansion of online courses, automated personalised learning, collaborative learning, and virtual reality learning environments.
More detail: Education has traditionally focused heavily on preparing students for the workforce. Other goals, such as helping to develop human character, and preparing students for adulthood in general, have tended in practice to play a secondary role (even if spokespeople for various educational authorities say these goals should be the primary ones).
The examinations in education often served the purpose simply to rank students, picking out the ones that could demonstrate the strongest ability to absorb and re-express large amounts of information within constraints that the examiners like. That was the case, independent of whether the information in question had much utility later in the student’s life. Employers would gravitate towards hiring the students with the best positions in this ranking.
Indeed, present-day education tends to prepare students for the challenges of the past, when the needs and expectations of society were relatively stable. However, as the 2020s approach, society is experiencing a confluence of accelerating transformations:
- People typically change their occupational role more frequently than in the past – when many spent their entire careers within a single company
- A larger part of most people’s lives will be spent outside of paid employment; a larger proportion of education should be preparing students to thrive, not in work, but in a post-work society.
- People are being bombarded with ever-greater amounts of information, in rapidly evolving formats – with much of that information being designed to mislead or confuse, and lots more being unintentionally misleading or confusing; a focus on critical thinking and collaborative intelligence is sorely needed
- Emerging disruptive technology has the potential to transform human experience in multiple ways that are hard to predict, including ways that are wonderfully positive, as well as ways that are deeply negative; this raises the importance of foresight, scenario planning, and the identification and management of both risks and opportunities
- Interactions with other people aren’t just more numerous than in the past, but are also more diverse – first, because of greater global travel and interaction than in the past; and second, because groups of people are increasingly adopting new lifestyles, bodily modifications, new social structures, and new philosophies
- As well as coexisting with other people, there will be a growing set of issues around coexisting with advanced AIs and robots
- Many of the assumptions behind traditional frameworks for ethics and morality are being challenged by new ideas that are circulating, and by radical new possibilities that technology puts in our hands.
With the approach of a post-work society, it is time to re-evaluate much of the content of existing educational courses. These courses should be targeted at assisting students:
- To cope with the pace of change in society
- To reach their full potential
- To identify and respond to opportunities and risks
- To participate wisely in social activities, including democratic decision-making.
Changes are overdue in not only the content of the courses but also their delivery mechanisms, to allow more and more education to be essentially free of charge, without any sacrifice in quality.
The baseline: Graduates from a three year university course in the UK typically acquire student debt of around £50,000. These debts incur interest at a rate higher than the inflation rate of the retail price interest. These debts arise in part from living costs, and in part from student fees, which are often as high as £9,000 per year.
Education at levels lower than university is expensive too. Universities and schools need funds:
- For the upkeep of their buildings, laboratories, sports facilities, and so on
- For the salaries of their teachers, class assistants, and other admin staff
- For the development of course materials
- For the operation of examinations.
The vision and mission statements of Khan Academy read as follows:
We’re a nonprofit with the mission to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.
For every student, every classroom. Real results.
The Future Learn website contains the following vision:
FutureLearn’s purpose is to transform access to education.
Unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses…
Get access to high quality learning wherever you are, with online courses, programs and degrees created by leading universities, business schools and specialist organisations.
The École 42 school in Paris takes these ideas further, and relies on students teaching each other in peer groups. It was set up by Xavier Niel, a French billionaire. An article in Quartz with the title “A free, teacher-less university in France is schooling thousands of future-proof programmers” reports on the success of the initiative:
On a recent Tuesday, the ground floor of École 42 on Boulevard Bessières in the north of Paris is bustling with students—alone, with headphones, in pairs and groups—hovering around iMacs. Many have colds; it is freezing inside and few have slept properly in the past week.
Downstairs, students are strewn about on air mattresses with sleeping bags, trying to catch a nap; dozens of towels hang on railings along the walls.
Nicolas, 22, has been working for up to 12 hours a day. “The first week I went fast and tried to do too much,” he says, sitting at his computer alongside Celeste, 25, who used to work in infographics. “The second week I slowed down and tried to think more about what I was doing,” he adds, coughing.
This self-directed approach is the point of the school. I ask Celeste if she wouldn’t prefer a teacher, or at least some guidance. “Sometimes I want a teacher so I can get to the solution faster,” she says. “But when I get the answer myself its more self-gratifying.”
The success of these initiatives arises from the benefits of scale, automation, data analysis, and collaborative learning:
- The best lectures can be viewed by people all over the world, again and again
- Analysis of how students respond to different ways of presenting material highlights which methods are more effective (and in which circumstances)
- The progress of students can be assessed automatically, by evaluating their performance in exercises
- Students can also assist each other, in online communities which are provided for this purpose, curated by more experienced educators.
Nevertheless, online education presently covers only a small fraction of time spent in education. The potential for further transformation remains high.
Strategy: The progress made by initiatives such as Khan Academy, FutureLearn, and École 42 can be significantly extended by further application of emerging technologies:
- AI systems can increase the personalisation of education, so that each student receives material in the best way for them
- AI systems, such as automated essay marking, can also improve the evaluation of the areas in which each student would benefit from further study and/or alternative approaches
- VR (Virtual Reality) learning environments can remove costs from practical elements of education, including carrying out experiments, and developing manual skills
- Opportunities with gamification, “serious games”, and other narrative mechanisms that keep students motivated and “in the flow” for longer
- Use of biofeedback to monitor and manage mental states while learning
- Other applications from the field of educational neuroscience (“neuroeducation”).
These initiatives will require financial input, but should result in much greater efficiencies than in the present educational setup. Less overall spend on education will result, nevertheless, in bigger impact.
7. No homelessness
The goal: There will be no homelessness and no involuntary hunger.
The rationale: Secure shelter and reliable access to nutritious sustenance is the basis for many other positive experiences in life.
More detail: More detail
The baseline: The situation in the United Kingdom is described in a November 2018 report by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Here’s how the report starts:
The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, it contains many areas of immense wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world. It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation. And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies. Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centres have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centres have been sold off. While the labour and housing markets provide the crucial backdrop, the focus of this report is on the contribution made by social security and related policies.
The results? 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.
But the full picture of low-income well-being in the UK cannot be captured by statistics alone. Its manifestations are clear for all to see. The country’s most respected charitable groups, its leading think tanks, its parliamentary committees, independent authorities like the National Audit Office, and many others, have all drawn attention to the dramatic decline in the fortunes of the least well off in this country. But through it all, one actor has stubbornly resisted seeing the situation for what it is. The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial. Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the Government’s benefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan. Some tweaks to basic policy have reluctantly been made, but there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention.
- Homelessness in the UK is at a record high with 170,000 families and individuals experiencing destitution
- Homelessness increased every year between 2012 and 2017
- 38,000 under-25s and 4,200 over-65s are estimated to be homeless
- 170,800 households are experiencing the most extreme forms of homelessness, compared to 151,600 in 2012. This includes people who are sofa-surfing, living in hostels and rough sleeping
- 12,300 people are sleeping rough and a similar number of people (12,000) are living in cars, tents or public transport – double the amount compared to 2012.
Data collected by Wikipedia in the article “List of countries by homeless population” estimates that the number of homeless people in the UK is 307,000, which is 0.46% of the overall population. This is considerably worse than the rates in many other countries, including France (0.21%), Austria (0.21%), Finland (0.13%), Spain (0.09%), Canada (0.09%), Italy (0.08%), Norway (0.07%), Portugal (0.03%), South Korea (0.022%), and Japan (0.0039%).
Strategy: The construction industry should be assessed, not just on its profits, but on its provision of affordable, good quality homes.
Consider the techniques used by the company Broad Sustainable Building, when it erected a 57-storey building in Changsha, capital city of Hunan province in China, in just 19 working days. That’s a rate of three storeys per day. Key to that speed was the use of prefabricated units. Other important innovations in construction techniques include 3D printing, robotic construction, inspection by aerial drones, and new materials with unprecedented strength and resilience.
Similar techniques can in principle be used, not just to generate new buildings where none presently exist, but also to refurbish existing buildings – regenerating them from undesirable hangovers from previous eras into highly desirable contemporary accommodation.
With sufficient political desire, these techniques offer the promise that prices for property over the next 16 years might follow the same remarkable downwards trajectory witnessed in many other product areas – such as TVs, LCD screens, personal computers and smartphones, kitchen appliances, home robotics kits, genetic testing services, and many types of clothing.
A similar transformation needs to take place in the food industry. A major complication here is the amount of misinformation regarding which foods are truly healthy. Many companies imply that their sugary, addictive, high-carbohydrate food products are, somehow, good for us. Genuinely useful health advice is frequently drowned out by waves of marketing from well-funded corporations who have unhealthy products to sell. There also appears to be sharp divisions even between different medical experts as to what kind of diet is actually good for us. Some writers recommend a vegan diet (usually augmented with some mineral supplements), whereas others swear by a “paleo” diet with plenty of meat. Other controversies rage over different kinds of fat, different kinds of cholesterol, different kinds of sweetener, different kinds of wine, and so on. Given these ambiguities, it’s no surprise that inventive advertising material is able to suggest all kinds of health benefits from products that are actually more likely to harm us than to benefit us.
In principle, biochemical innovations (including GMOs) can improve the quality of food and also reduce costs that society. However, there is a risk that debate over these biochemical innovations will lose sight of the goal of increasing human flourishing. Instead, the debate will become dominated by other motivations, namely, on the one hand an obsession with financial profits, and on the other hand a countervailing obsessive distrust of commercial corporations.
The first part of this risk is that powerful agrochemical corporations will develop and market products that boost their financial bottom line, without adequate consideration of negative externalities from these products. The logic of short-term boosts in revenues will lead these corporations to suppress or throw doubt on any studies that query the wisdom of these products.
These corporations are skilled at placing into official regulatory bodies people who are sympathetic to corporate viewpoints. There is often an overly cosy relationship between regulatory bodies and the corporations they are meant to regulate, with managers from one side looking forward to future well-paid employment on the other side of that revolving door. In this way, big-spending corporations often “capture” their regulators, distorting their independence via a mixture of overt and covert pressures. The same corporations often allocate large budgets to lobbying efforts.
Another complicating factor is that politicians are inclined to favour “light touch” regulations. These politicians, often swayed by eloquent lobbyists, look favourably at jumps in profitability for the companies involved, because these jumps contribute to overall metrics of the performance of the economy – and because, in the absence of a more balanced set of metrics, society gives undue attention to statistics of economic growth. Unfortunately, light touch regulation often means ineffective regulation.
An excess of force in one direction often leads to an excessive reaction in the other direction. Because the agrochemical industry is perceived by many critics as being a dangerous obstruction to free enquiry and open discussion, these critics in turn often become implacable foes of the entire industry. Accusations and counter-accusations fly in both directions. Minds narrow as battle positions are championed.
In this adversarial situation, the points of valid science raised by supporters of the agrochemical industry tend to be brushed aside by critics, without proper acknowledgement of their validity. Conversely, the valid safety issues raised by critics tend to be brushed aside by industry supporters, under the rationale that these critics appear to be motivated by bitterness and negativity.
Rather than a hostile discussion, we need an open-minded consideration. Rather than an antagonistic conflict between pro-industry enthusiasts and risk-averse critics, we need to be able to appreciate and integrate the valid observations of all participants in the debate. Rather than a shouting match, what we need is the ability to appreciate and integrate multiple perspectives and insights. And rather than regulators and politicians being out-of-depth in this fast-moving landscape of ideas and innovations, we need to connect everyone to collective intelligence. In this way, healthier food – and desirable high quality housing – will be increasingly available at lower and lower costs.
Finally, a proportion of cases of homelessness arise, not from shortage of available accommodation, but from individuals suffering psychological issues. This element of homelessness will be addressed by the measures reducing mental health problems to less than 1% of the population.
8. Crime rate down by 90%+
The goal: The crime rate will have been reduced by at least 90%.
The rationale: Lives impacted by crime – whether violent or reputational – are often severely limited compared to previous possibilities. What’s more, a society in which many people feel motivated to commit crimes is one that evidently has many problems.
More detail: The goal is not particularly to suppress crime, or to be swifter to catch and incarcerate criminals. Instead, the primary goal is to reduce the social and psychological pressures which make people more likely to commit criminal acts.
In turn, a reduction in inclination towards criminal acts should be achieved, not by making people more docile or passive, but by ensuring that people’s energy can be channelled in ways benefiting society as a whole.
The baseline: Statistics on crime in England and Wales are available in the CSEW (Crime Survey for England and Wales) from the ONS (Office of National Statistics). A report published in April 2019 reviewed data on crimes up to December 2018, and going back as far as 1981. Here is the executive summary:
Over recent decades we have seen continued falls in overall levels of crime but in the last year there has been no significant change. However, it is important to look at individual crime types as the total figure hides variation both within and across crime types. We have seen a rise in overall theft but a mixed picture in different types of offences involving theft. There are also differences in the lower-volume but higher-harm types of violence, with increases in homicide and offences involving knives and sharp instruments but decreases in offences involving firearms.
The report also highlights some caveats:
An increase in the number of crimes recorded by the police does not necessarily mean the level of crime has increased.
For many types of crime, police recorded crime statistics do not provide a reliable measure of levels or trends in crime as they only cover crimes that come to the attention of the police.
Police recorded crime can be affected by changes in policing activity and recording practice and by willingness of victims to report.
The CSEW does not cover crimes against businesses or those not resident in households and is not well-suited to measuring trends in some of the more harmful crimes that occur in relatively low volumes.
Adding up all the offences recorded in the different categories of crime, the total crime level of 1981 is estimated around 11 million offences. This grew to a peak of around 20 million offences in 1995 before falling back in more recent years to between 7 million and 10 million offences per year. However, data for “computer misuse” has been introduced since 2018 and pushes up the most recent totals to around 11 million.
Evidently crimes vary in terms of their seriousness, and it would be a mistake simply to focus on numbers of offences. Moreover, the goal of reducing crime rates should not be met simply by some kind of reclassification, in which incidents previously regarded as crimes are somehow disregarded.
Strategy: The initiatives to improve mental health, to eliminate homelessness, and to remove the need to work to earn an income, should all contribute to reducing the social and psychological pressures that lead to criminal acts.
However, even if only a small proportion of the population remain inclined to criminal acts, the overall crime rate could still remain too high. That’s because small groups of people will be able to take advantage of technology to carry out lots of crime in parallel – via systems such as “ransomware as a service” or “intelligent malware as a service”. The ability of technology to multiply human power means that just a few people with criminal intent could give rise to large amounts of crime.
That raises the priority for software systems to be highly secure and reliable. It also raises the priority of intelligent surveillance of the actions of people who might carry out crimes. This last measure is potentially controversial, since it allows part of the state to monitor citizens in a way that could be considered deeply intrusive. For this reason, access to this surveillance data will need to be restricted to trustworthy parts of the overall public apparatus – similar to the way that doctors are trusted with sensitive medical information. In turn, this highlights the importance of initiatives that increase the trustworthiness of key elements of our national infrastructure.
On a practical basis, initiatives to understand and reduce particular types of crime should be formed, starting with the types of crime (such as violent crime) that have the biggest negative impact on people’s lives.
9. Global open borders community
The goal: The UK will be part of a global “open borders” community of at least 25% of the earth’s population.
The rationale: Freedom of movement opens up many new opportunities. Migration has been found to have considerable net positive effects on the UK, including productivity, public finances, cultural richness, and individuals’ well-being. Flows of money and ideas in the reverse direction also benefit the original countries of the immigrants. In any case, restrictions on someone’s liberty should not arise simply from an accident of birth, in which people happen to be born in a location with many fewer opportunities.
More detail: Eight years of research by the Migration Advisory Council (MAC) is summarised in a recent report by Professor Jonathan Portes of King’s College London. Here are some extracts:
Immigration has a substantial, positive and significant on productivity; an increase in the immigrant share of the labour force by 1 percentage point is associated with an increase in overall productivity of 2 to 3 percentage points.
Overall immigrants are relatively more beneficial for the public finances than natives, with migrants from the EU making on average a large positive contribution… On average, the average net fiscal contribution of an immigrant was £440 more than that of a native.
The average EEA migrant arriving in 2016 will contribute a discounted total of around £78,000 to the UK public finances over his or her lifetime. Overall, the future net contribution of 2016 arrivals alone to the UK public finances is estimated at £25bn. Had there been no immigration at all in 2016, the rest of us would have had, over time, to find £25bn, through higher taxes, public service cuts, or higher borrowing.
The report notes that similar conclusions have been reached by international bodies such as the IMF and the OECD.
The report continues as follows:
A further paper examines the impact of immigration on “subjective well-being”, or life satisfaction (sometimes described simply as “happiness”). It finds that the impact of immigration on life satisfaction at a local level is actually positive, although quite small.
Nor is there any evidence that this is because people who don’t like immigration move away from high immigration areas. Whatever people may say to opinion polls about immigration at a national level, there’s no evidence that having lots of immigrants reduces quality of life locally…
The conclusions are clear: immigration makes the UK more productive, and benefits the Treasury: these effects are (by far) more than enough to outweigh any small direct negative impacts on wages for lower paid workers.
The case for open borders is also reviewed in an Economist article from July 2017 with the headline “A world of free movement would be $78 trillion richer”. Here are some of the points from that article:
In America, the foreign-born are only a fifth as likely to be incarcerated as the native-born…
A study of migration flows among 145 countries between 1970 and 2000 by researchers at the University of Warwick found that migration was more likely to reduce terrorism than increase it, largely because migration fosters economic growth.
Some limitations may be imposed on the policy of open borders, as practical measures, to avoid any drastic changes in local culture or social stability:
- People could lose their right of residency if they fail to follow agreed rules
- Immigrants could be denied a vote until they had been resident for a given amount of time (perhaps five or ten years)
- Immigrants could be denied access to various social security payments (including any basic income payment) until, again, a given period of time has elapsed
- Immigration of this sort could be restricted to people coming from countries with whom a reciprocal agreement exists
- Immigration to particular regions of countries could be limited to numbers agreed in advance
For further discussion of the case for open borders, see the book “Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World” by Rutger Bregman.
The baseline: A number of open border areas have been created around the world. Over time, some of these have grown and merged. These include:
- The Nordic Passport Union of 1954, establishing open borders between Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland
- The Benelux Economic Union, dating from 1944, between Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg
- The Schengen Agreement, which started in 1985 when the three countries of the Benelux Economic Union were joined by France and Germany in a declared intent to gradually remove checks for people and vehicles crossing the borders between these countries
- Extensions of the Schengen Agreement to incorporate the countries of the Nordic Passport Union and also Austria, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and Vatican City
- The Andean Community, dating from 2007, of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru
- The CA4 Border Control Agreement, dating from 2006, of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua
- The CARICOM Single Market and Economy, dating from 2009, of Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Montserrat, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago
- The East African Community, dating from 2000, of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda
- The Gulf Cooperation Council, dating from 1981, of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi-Arabia, and United Arab Emirates
- The Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, dating from 1973, of Australia and New Zealand.
At the time of writing, a common travel area also operates between Ireland and the United Kingdom.
From time to time, countries in these various regions do impose tighter controls at internal borders, as a reflection of practical difficulties as well as occasional hostilities. For example, borders between Qatar and Saudi-Arabia have been closed since 2017, and travel between Qatar and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council is subject to constraints.
The combined population of the 29 countries in the Schengen region is currently 421 million. Adding in the populations of Ireland and the United Kingdom would bring the total to 493 million, which is 6.4% of the global population of 7,714 million. Achieving an open border region comprising a quarter of the world’s population will therefore require significant additional growth and mergers. Like the other goals in this list, it’s a challenging vision, but one that is important to target.
Strategy: Existing open border regions are comprised of countries which have a broad level of general social and economic equality with each other. Regions with starker variations in social and economic opportunities would be likely to see greater internal instability, with greater amounts of migration within the region. Progress with the goal requires raising the levels of social and economic opportunity within a larger number of countries.
It will also be necessary to establish agreement on the core values and culture of a region: which features of law and practice are regarded as key to harmony within the region, and which elements of variation and diversity should be accepted or even encouraged. Admission to an open border region can be made conditional upon ongoing acceptance and practice of the agreed core values.
10. Politicians trusted and respected
The goal: Voters will no longer routinely assess politicians as self-serving, untrustworthy, or incompetent.
The rationale: A society in which there is no much mistrust and dislike of politicians is far from ideal. Greater transparency and higher general integrity is in the strong public interest.
More detail: More detail
The baseline: A 2017 Ipsos MORI “Veracity Index” poll measured the level of esteem held by a variety of professions by the British public. Respondents to the survey were asked if they generally trusted people from specified professions to tell the truth. Politicians came bottom of the list, with a positive rating of only 17%. This is worse than, for example, journalists (27%), estate agents (also 27%), business leaders (36%), bankers (38%), and lawyers (54%). For comparison, the profession of nurses came out best, with a positive rating of 94%, followed by doctors on 91%, and teachers on 87%.
The Edelman “Trust Barometer” findings for 2019 contained the following evaluations by members of the public of various traits of politicians in the UK:
- “Honest with the public” – deemed as a most important trait by 72% of respondents, but 58% said that “few/none of the UK’s political leaders show this trait”
- “A good communicator” – deemed as a most important trait by 64% of respondents, but 38% said that “few/none of the UK’s political leaders show this trait”.
The European Social Survey regularly evaluates the level of trust in politicians in 32 countries in and around Europe. The UK generally ranks about 12th best in this survey – well ahead of countries such as Poland, Portugal, Ukraine, Croatia, and Bulgaria, but significantly behind Denmark (the top of the list), Switzerland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland.
Strategy: Measures that can increase the level of trust and respect for politicians include:
- Increased transparency, to avoid any suspicions of hidden motivations or vested interests
- Automated real-time fact-checking, so that politicians know any distortions of the truth will be quickly pointed out
- Encouragement of individual politicians with high ethical standards and integrity
- Enforcement of penalties in cases when politicians knowingly pass on false information
- Easier mechanisms for the electorate to be able to quickly “recall” a politician when they have lost the trust of voters
- Improvements in mental health for everyone, including politicians, thereby diminishing tendencies for dysfunctional behaviour
- Diminished power for political parties to constrain how individual politicians express themselves, allowing more politicians to speak according to their own conscience.
A role can also be explored for regular psychometric assessment of politicians.
11. “House of AI” in parliament
The goal: Parliament will involve a close partnership with a “House of AI” (or similar) revising chamber.
The rationale: Machine intelligence and other decision support tools can provide useful analysis and validation of proposed changes in legislation. Problems with legislation can be identified sooner. Creative new adaptations and syntheses of earlier ideas can be brought forward.
More detail: There is no suggestion that AIs will have overall control of decisions. Instead, what is envisioned is a productive partnership between human intelligence and machine intelligence, in which the final decision rests with human politicians.
The relationship between human politicians and the “House of AI” would follow the model between the existing House of Commons and the House of Lords: the Lords can revise and amend legislation originating in the Commons, but the Commons has the ability to override decisions from the Lords. What’s more, the Commons can take account of ideas from groups of Lords in formulating new legislation in the first place.
The baseline: Artificial intelligence systems are quickly increasing in use around the world as decision support tools. For example, they provide support for medical decisions, legal reviews, assessment of credit worthiness, identifying the most suitable candidates for employment, and suggesting new partners for romance and intimacy. Tools can draw attention to mistakes in spelling and grammar, to infelicities in style, and to wording that is more likely to be effective for particular audiences. Tools can also flag up instances of mistaken facts, questionable sourcing, and the likelihood that some material, such as a video, has been fabricated or manipulated from its original content.
Such systems are prone to various amounts of bias, misunderstanding, quirks, and other faults. People who use these tools sometimes put too much trust in them, without independently assessing their recommendations. Another risk, identified by author Jamie Bartlett as “the moral singularity”, is that people will lose their ability to take independent hard decisions, through lack of practice, on account of delegating more and more decisions to AI systems. With atrophied moral intuitions, people will unintentionally become dominated by the moral decisions made on their behalf by machine intelligence.
Strategy: To be successful, the envisioned House of AI will need the following support:
- All algorithms used in these AI systems need to be in the public domain, and to pass ongoing reviews about their transparency and reliability
- Opaque algorithms, or other algorithms whose model of operation remain poorly understood, need to be retired, or evolved in ways addressing their shortcomings
- The House of AI will not be dependent on any systems owned or operated by commercial entities; instead, it will be “AI of the people, by the people, for the people”.
Public funding will likely need to be allocated to develop these systems, rather than waiting for commercial companies to create them.
12. Meat consumption cut by 90%
The goal: Consumption of meat from slaughtered animals will be cut by at least 90%.
The rationale: Compared to meat from slaughtered animals, alternatives, including meat that is lab-grown, will be healthier, better for the environment (freeing up land for other purposes), and avoid the current situation of mass slaughter.
More detail: It has been suggested (by the writer Arwa Mahdawi) that “Carnivores are going the way of cigarette smokers”:
By 2050, there’s a good chance that it will be socially unacceptable to eat meat. In the same way that we’re now horrified people used to smoke in offices and airplanes, we’ll find it almost unthinkable that people used to consume animals so casually and frequently.
The cause of this change in practice will be two-fold: a change in attitude, and a change in the set of technologies that can be used to create substitutes for slaughtered meat. Substitutes include a classical vegetarian diet, plant-based alternatives with much the same taste and texture as meat, and meat grown in laboratories from cultured cells.
The baseline: Plant-based meat alternatives are growing in number, and include products from Vivera, Fry’s Family Food, Tofurky, Oumph, Linda McCartney Foods, Iceland, Quorn, Gosh, Naturli, Beyond Meat, and Impossible Foods (as featured in the “Impossible Burger” served in some Burger King shops).
However, these products, along with meat grown from cultured cells, presently suffer from a number of drawbacks:
- The taste and texture is widely thought to compare poorly to that of “real” meat
- The cost of lab-grown meat remains high
- There are no processes in place, yet, for larger-scale production of lab-grown meat.
One issue is the reliance of lab-grown meat on one or more products that still need to be derived from slaughtered animals. This is explained in a recent Wired article, “The clean meat industry is racing to ditch its reliance on foetal blood”:
The clean meat industry has a messy problem. None of the major players have managed to grow meat without using animal serum – a blend of growth-inducing proteins usually made from the blood of animals. The most popular is foetal bovine serum (FBS), a mixture harvested from the blood of foetuses excised from pregnant cows slaughtered in the dairy or meat industries. FBS contains a cocktail of proteins that make it ideally-suited for helping all kinds of animal cells grow and duplicate.
Strategy: Considerable research and development is now underway to address the challenges with clean meat. A report from the Adam Smith Institute, “Can UK business capitalise on advances in lab-grown meat?”, urged UK businesses to increase investment in the field. The report highlighted progress in recent years as follows:
The cost of manufacturing a clean meat burger patty fell to about £8 each in 2018, down from an estimated £215,000 in 2013. Production used between 78% and 96% less greenhouse gas emissions, and 99% less land than traditional livestock farming.
Options to avoid use of foetal bovine serum include recombinant DNA technology and the use of pluripotent stem cells. The latter method has been adopted by the Dutch company Meatable, who have been working with researchers at Cambridge University.
Factors that could accelerate adoption of clean meat include:
- Confidence that the new products are better for health than classical meat (consumption of which has been linked to many diseases)
- The rich variety of new types of meat that could become available, for example, meat equivalent to that from a stegosaurus or tyrannosaurus.
Agricultural research already receives a sizeable budget from public funds. A significant portion of this budget should be applied to accelerating progress with clean meat.
13. Cryonics suspension on NHS
The goal: Cryonic suspension will be available to all, on point of death, on the NHS.
The rationale: Cryonics provides a kind of “ambulance to the future” in which bodies can be repaired or even reconstructed, allowing a fresh new lease of life beyond the existing capabilities of medicine. Cryonics will increase the chance of people being able to resume relationships with family and friends, to continue to develop their own skills, and to have more experiences.
More detail: Cryonics involves the body (or, in some cases, just the head, or the brain) being lowered to temperatures below -130 °C. At these temperatures, biological processes essentially cease.
A group of 68 scientists have signed an open letter on cryonics, at various dates from 2004 onwards:
To whom it may concern,
Cryonics is a legitimate science-based endeavor that seeks to preserve human beings, especially the human brain, by the best technology available. Future technologies for resuscitation can be envisioned that involve molecular repair by nanomedicine, highly advanced computation, detailed control of cell growth, and tissue regeneration.
With a view toward these developments, there is a credible possibility that cryonics performed under the best conditions achievable today can preserve sufficient neurological information to permit eventual restoration of a person to full health.
The rights of people who choose cryonics are important, and should be respected.
Low temperature preservation is already in wide use for early-stage embryos, and for sperm and eggs. These have regained vitality when the temperature has been increased again. Simple organisms, such as the C. elegans worm, have been cryopreserved and then reanimated, and have demonstrated retention of memories of trained tasks at the end of the process.
The baseline: The cost of cryonic suspension is currently upwards of $28,000 (via the American company Cryonics Institute) or $70,000 (via another American company, Alcor). These costs rise higher to take care of standby costs, and, in the case of Alcor, further again, to $200,000, for the preservation of the whole body rather than just the head.
These high costs reflect the fact that very few people undergo the procedure at the present. Costs could come down significantly if benefits of scale can be achieved. Larger scale operation is also likely to improve the quality of the suspension, so there is less chance of damage being introduced.
The first person to be successfully cryopreserved was Dr James Bedford, a 73-year old retired psychology professor. This took place on 12th January 1967. Despite the early cryonics community forecasting that the idea would soon become more popular, the rate of cryopreservations remains low to this day. For example, Alcor preserved only 10 individuals in 2018, 5 in 2017, 6 in 2016, 10 in 2015, 13 in 2014, 7 in 2013, and 3 in 2012.
However, there are currently many factors that discourage people from signing up for cryonics preservation. These include costs, problems arranging transport of the body overseas to a location where the storage of bodies is legal, the perceived low likelihood of a subsequent successful reanimation, lack of evidence of reanimation of larger biological organs, dislike of appearing to be a “crank”, apprehension over tension from family members (exacerbated if family members expect to inherit funds that are instead allocated to cryopreservation services), occasional mistrust over the motives of the cryonics organisations (which are sometimes alleged – with no good evidence – to be motivated by commercial considerations), and uncertainty over which provider should be preferred.
Strategy: In numerous other fields of life, costs decline and quality increases as the total number of experiences of a product or service increases. These are known as scale effects.
Actions that are likely to increase the number of people signed up for cryonics (and thereby reduce individual costs) include:
- Convincing demonstrations of successful reanimation of larger biological organisms or organs
- Changes in the law concerning euthanasia, to allow people who are approaching death to control the time when cryopreservation can start (this is sometimes known as cryothanasia)
- Storage of cryopreserved bodies at locations throughout the UK, rather than travel needing to be arranged overseas
- Involvement of hospital doctors and other staff in the cryopreservation process, rather than a potentially disruptive handover needing to be made to a team of “standby volunteers”.
Another suggestion is that cryopreservation of the brain could be offered by the NHS in return for the other organs in the body being made available for transplantation or scientific research.
14. Ectogenetic pregnancies on NHS
The goal: Pregnancy via ecotgenesis will be available to all on the NHS.
The rationale: Many women who currently find themselves unable or unwilling to become mothers by natural gestation will be grateful for the opportunity provided by ectogenesis. Coupled with therapies to regenerate ovaries and reverse the menopause, this treatment will provide additional choice to women, beyond existing options such as adoption.
More detail: Ectogenetic pregnancies extend and unify two fields of healthcare that already exist:
- IVF: In-Vitro Fertilisation, in which conception takes place outside of the bodies of the parents
- Hospital incubator care of babies that are born prematurely – babies that would otherwise have been too young to survive.
Ectogenetic pregnancies would remove the need for the growing embryo to be implanted inside the mother in between conception and birth. Instead, growth will take place inside a kind of artificial womb.
The baseline: An indication of the kind of technology that could one day provide artificial wombs is given in the 2017 Nature article “An extra-uterine system to physiologically support the extreme premature lamb”:
In the developed world, extreme prematurity is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity due to a combination of organ immaturity and iatrogenic injury. Until now, efforts to extend gestation using extracorporeal systems have achieved limited success. Here we report the development of a system that incorporates a pumpless oxygenator circuit connected to the fetus of a lamb via an umbilical cord interface that is maintained within a closed ‘amniotic fluid’ circuit that closely reproduces the environment of the womb. We show that fetal lambs that are developmentally equivalent to the extreme premature human infant can be physiologically supported in this extra-uterine device for up to 4 weeks. Lambs on support maintain stable haemodynamics, have normal blood gas and oxygenation parameters and maintain patency of the fetal circulation. With appropriate nutritional support, lambs on the system demonstrate normal somatic growth, lung maturation and brain growth and myelination…
Extreme premature fetal lambs can be consistently supported in an extracorporeal device for up to 4 weeks without apparent physiologic derangement or organ failure.
At the other end of the process, scientists in the United Kingdom have (as reported in the Guardian) have kept embryos alive for 13 days after conception:
Researchers at Cambridge University… have kept a human embryo alive outside the body for 13 days using a mix of nutrients that mimic conditions in the womb. The embryo survived several days longer than previously observed and research only stopped because they were approaching the 14-day legal limit for the length of time an embryo can be kept in a lab. In other words, our ethics rather than our technology are now the limiting factor.
The Guardian article continues:
The key to survival through ectogenesis is reproducing the conditions of the womb. As scientists become better at that, the gap between the longest time embryos can survive and the earliest time a foetus is viable will narrow. When the two timescales meet, we will have the technology for a complete external womb.
However, there are still major obstacles to facilitating total extra-uterine development. It will take some time to fully identify and generate all the biologically active molecules that are incorporated into a developing embryo. It will also be a major challenge to develop a system that facilitates the specialised angiogenesis processes that form a working umbilical cord to connect to the surrogate maternal system, delivering all the elements.
Views vary regarding the desirability of this technology – similar to the heated debates that preceded the availability of IVF in the late 1970s. At that time, it was widely thought that excess psychological pressures would apply to the women, families, and children involved. However, society subsequently developed methods to handle these pressures.
Strategy: Further investment of research should be prioritised, in order to provide women with the greater freedoms and opportunities the technology would provide. In parallel, discussion should continue about the social and psychological implications of this technology. An example of a short fictional story that can prompt useful reflection on this topic is the video by Rachel Foley, “Technocratic Birth”.
This goal may turn out to be too ambitious for the 2035 time horizon. If further study were to confirm that conclusion, the goal could be reduced to the adoption of technology supporting babies that are ever more premature.
Note: Any concerns about possible over-population are a red herring here, given that the capacity of the earth as a whole far exceeds the present population.
15. Fusion generates >1% energy
The goal: Fusion will be generating at least 1% of the energy used in the UK.
The rationale: Nuclear fusion has the potential to provide vast amounts of safe, clean energy, once we have solved the deep technical and collaboration issues that have held up implementation so far.
More detail: First conceived as a theoretical possibility in the 1920s by the British physicists Francis Aston and Arthur Eddington, nuclear fusion has regularly been said since the 1940s to be “thirty years in the future”. Containing hydrogen at temperatures over 100 million degrees Centigrade in a fusion reactor poses numerous engineering difficulties. However, if these problems could be solved, fusion will have many benefits:
- Enormous fuel supplies
- Little waste product
- Manageable radioactivity.
To give a comparison: whereas the UK economy uses each day the energy from several supertankers full of oil, less than one thousandth of a single supertanker containing fuel for nuclear fusion – namely isotopes of hydrogen – would provide enough energy to run the UK economy for an entire year.
The baseline: ITER, which stands for “International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor”, is one of the world’s most ambitious long-term collaborative engineering projects. Joint US-Soviet funding for the project was agreed during talks between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. As of 2005 the main funding has been split between seven parties, with the European Union contributing 45%, and six other countries contributing roughly 9% each: the US, China, Russia, India, Japan, and South Korea. Construction of the main complex started in 2013, in Saint Paul-lez-Durance, southern France. Construction is scheduled to complete in 2025, with full scale experiments expected by 2035. Given the lengthy timescales involved, and a history of budget overruns, questions are frequently raised about the viability of the project. These questions often focus on political matters of how the collaboration will proceed, rather than questions of science or engineering.
In parallel with ITER, a number of smaller-scale nuclear fusion research projects have been seeking funding from different sources, including venture capitalists. Being smaller and more nimble, these projects may be more open to adopting disruptive innovative ideas. These projects include:
- The SPARC (SPherical Affordable Robust Compact) reactor at MIT
- The MAST (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) project in Oxfordshire in the UK, whose website envisions “clean and abundant fusion power by 2030”.
Strategy: The long timescales of nuclear fusion projects – even the ones which have aspirations to proceed more quickly – mean they have great difficulty in attracting private funding. Accordingly, the speed of progress is dependent upon public funding being made available.
Another factor which can accelerate progress is the application of improved artificial intelligence systems to review and propose the design of nuclear fusion systems. The potential is explained in a recent article “Artificial Intelligence Accelerates Development of Limitless Fusion Energy” by the Plasma Physics Laboratory of Princeton University:
Artificial intelligence (AI), a branch of computer science that is transforming scientific inquiry and industry, could now speed the development of safe, clean and virtually limitless fusion energy for generating electricity. A major step in this direction is under way at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and Princeton University, where a team of scientists working with a Harvard graduate student is for the first time applying deep learning — a powerful new version of the machine learning form of AI — to forecast sudden disruptions that can halt fusion reactions and damage the doughnut-shaped tokamaks that house the reactions…
16. Continuous presence on Mars
The goal: The UK will be part of an organisation that maintains a continuous human presence on Mars.
The rationale: A continuous human presence on Mars will help transform humanity’s perspective, from being inward-looking and Earth-bound, to being outward-looking and cosmos-embracing.
More detail: Robot exploration of Mars can carry out many useful scientific experiments, but having humans present there too will provide a significant additional perspective.
The baseline: When astronauts reached the Moon in the late 1960s, it was widely assumed that humans would visit Mars before the end of the century. However, in the years that followed, Nasa’s interest was diverted instead onto an international space station, which produced its own line of benefits. It has been independent entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos that have rekindled the idea of interplanetary travel.
It’s possible to make a self-sustaining city on Mars by 2050, if we start in 5 years [that is, by 2024] & take 10 orbital synchronizations
Strategy: Finding an effective model for collaboration between public and private initiatives in space exploration will be key to faster progress with this goal.
99. Bubbling under
Other goals that have been suggested, but which need more work and agreement, include:
- Increased respect for animal rights
- Sustainable high-speed transport systems, such as magnetic levitation and hyperloop
- A commitment to morphological freedom
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